Distance from Nearest Road: 5.3 miles
Distance from Nearest Trail: <0.05 miles
Cell Phone Coverage: No
Conservation Land: Yes, Adirondack Park
Travel Method: Backpacking
Travel Time One-Way: 1 day
Something We Learned: The Adirondack Park boundary encompasses nearly 6 million acres and is the largest publicly protected area in the Lower 48 United States.
June 12, 2012. 10:30 a.m. We begin our journey to the remotest location in all of New York from Seward Trailhead, within the High Peaks Wilderness Area of Adirondack Park. Excitement is high, but rain clouds loom. A late spring cold front hangs overhead. We assemble our packs and gasp at the bug cloud forming around our bodies. None of us are strangers to bugs, but they never are enjoyable. Our nephew, Cameron, is with us today and for all of upcoming Project Remote Northeast. He is halfway done with college and out for the summer. It seemed the perfect opportunity to offer him an experience he (and we) could cherish for a lifetime. We also are accompanied by Josh Wilson, a writer/photographer from Adirondack Explorer Magazine. Josh will be with us on assignment to document our current New York Remote Spot trip for the magazine. Our packs weigh in at 52 lbs for Ryan, 42 for Rebecca, and 33 for Cameron. Josh packs enviably light.
Rebecca and Skyla sign us in. We need to get moving because we have a long way to go today…about 13 miles. We want to get on or close to the NY Remote Spot by the end of the day. Scheduling issues are causing us to make this trip a 2 day, 1 nighter. The next 2 days should be a good physical and mental test for all of us, with the long mileage, heavy packs, mountainous terrain, bad bugs, and bad weather all stacked up against us. This is why we train physically for Project Remote. Although we travel as a family, Project Remote is no “family vacation.” It’s work. Great and fulfilling work that we created. We eagerly set out for the current challenge.
In this northern temperate wonderland, we are like curious children turning over rocks and logs looking at everything. One of us actually is a curious child…This paper birch has enough papery bark to write a book on. If feels like old time parchment paper. The dense forest of the Adirondack Park is a mixed bag of northern conifers and deciduous, broad-leaved trees. About 60 tree species are within the park’s boundary. Abiotic factors such as soil type, moisture content, and elevation govern which species occur in any given forest stand. Groundcover vegetation also is highly variable. Under the dense forest canopy, the ground is moist and laden with a plethora of ferns, but also, mosses, lichens, and shrubs. We recognize some species that we have in north Florida as well-such as bracken fern, sphagnum moss and reindeer moss (which is actually a lichen).
During the first hour, the wind gusts and the dense green canopy sways. Skyla whimpers and asks frequently to get out of the pack. She has spent long days strapped in a car seat just to get here from Florida only to be strapped back into a pack. She finally wants to be free. We reluctantly let her. It’s not that we don’t want her to walk, it’s just that the first rain drops are falling, and we have many hours of walking remaining. Despite impending bad weather and the need to travel fast, we are reminded that our Remote Spot expeditions must move along at toddler speed. We invest about 20 minutes of toddler-paced walking into Skyla’s well-being. It is just wonderful to watch your own child take in the wild world and grow from an experience like this. She has had many now. After a little parent/child time, she is good to go for hours…When the steady rain hits, our camera disappears into a waterproof sack inside Ryan’s pack. The temperature drops to the low 60′s. All of us put on breatheable rain jackets over our synthetic t-shirts. We push down a system of rugged hiking trails for 10 miles through a blur of rain, wind, and sweat. At least the bugs retreat in the nasty weather. The next 6 rain-drenched hours are not recorded by us photographically, just mentally. Josh, however, keeps his cameras operating…
The rain softens then lets up. The forest canopy drips after the rain stops. After 3 more slow, muddy miles, we approach a leanto structure-called Ouluska leanto. It’s getting late, and rain could begin again in an instant. We decide to utilize the leanto as our camping shelter. The New York Remote Spot is now about 3/4 trail miles beyond the leanto, and according to our calculation, apparently very near the trail we are now on - the Northville-Placid trail. We will find out just how close to the trail it is in the morning, when we document the Spot.
We set up our bedding in the leanto and prepare our freeze-dried meals using water right out of the adjacent Cold River. Black flies, mosquitoes, and no-see-ums steal blood from our fatigued bodies as if they know we are easier pickins while tired. This much wild beauty comes with a buggy price. Our hike today totals 13 miles-along a system of hiking trails through drenching rain and mountain terrain with extremely heavy packs. This apparently is the remotest leanto in all of New York.
Some, including us, might debate that the remoteness of an area is impacted by such a permanent human structure. But after 2 years of refining our quantitative definition of remoteness, we believe that structures such as this one, accessible only by foot and not part of an isolated village, should not be a determining factor in the remoteness definition or calculation. Tonight, here, we have a lively discussion about remoteness. Everyone contributes varied thoughts and feelings. We decide that, even though our “feeling” of being remote takes a hit with this leanto here, a definition of remoteness must be scientific, unbiased, and quantitative-not based on feeling. Everyone’s feelings are different. One person may “feel” remote down a long country highway. Others, like most of us on this trip, “feel” more and more remote as we get away from all things of human origin. If it were possible to know the precise location of every modern structure of human origin within the landscape, then we might be able to further refine our current quantitative definition of remotess. But that isn’t possible, yet (and we’re not sure if we even want it to be). So we keep coming back to our current definition, which is as powerful as it can be given the extent to which human structures are mapped and known quantities (i.e. roads/ORV routes, and cities/villages).
Ultimately, through Project Remote, we most hope to bring attention to the shocking extent of roads (i.e. all designated motorized vehicular roads and routes) that now blanket the United States…and the myriad ecological impacts that roads have…so that the American people and policymakers can be better informed and hopefully make better decisions about how to preserve the remaining remoteness of our country. What shocks us most of all is that it is so darn difficult to actually get very distant from a road almost anywhere. You have to possess advanced computer skills to even identify where remaining roadless areas are, and then, travel hundreds of miles just to get to a sufficiently large roadless area. Many of our greatest conservation lands, themselves, are still being developed with roads. In the end, it is all about trying to wean ourselves off of our addiction to unsustainable and un-ecofriendly fossil fuels while trying to preserve all remaining roadless areas for the benefit of wilderness seekers and wildlife. We once considered adding hiking trails to the list of quantities that affect our remoteness calculations. But early on, we decided that foot-based wilderness travel should be celebrated and encouraged. In our mission to discover and document the nation’s remotest locations, there have already been several state Remote Spots that are situated either directly on or less than a mile from a hiking trail. We guess that says that hiking is alive and well all across the eastern U.S. Now, if we could just reduce roadbuilding and restore hundreds of thousands of miles of usless roads back to native habitat!
After our remote rants, we retreat to our bug-proof shelters under the leanto, crack a few jokes, and giggle ourselves to sleep…
June 13, 2012. Up early. It’s 5-something in the morning. The sun rises significantly earlier in the summertime at 44 degrees north latitude than is does at 30, where we are from. This has its virtues. More light to work and play with in the summer. After the lengthy process of getting up, eating, breaking camp, and tending to toddler, we get to hiking a short distance to the remotest location in all of New York. Ryan wakes up the GPS and begins navigation to the waypoint that is the NY Remote Spot. Everyone travels light to the Remote Spot, except for Ryan, who carries Skyla in the backpack. We have left most of our gear back at the leanto all packed up, because this trip will be an out-and-back to/from the Remote Spot.
Excitement builds as we reach that point in the Northville-Placid trail along the north side of Cold River where we must set out on a bushwhack northward to “Go Remote,” as we call it…It turns out that our bushwhack is extrememly short, and after winding around a bit dealing with a sluggish GPS unit, we land onto the NY Remote Spot. Photo at left is the view south from the NY Remote Spot. Ryan sets up the tripod and camera while everyone else stands out of view and gets quiet. Skyla always seems to get vocal during these quiet times.
We record the sights and sounds of New York remoteness, then we perform our 15-minute Remote Spot Assessment (RSA) where we record various kinds of data in an attempt to measure the extent to which modern development or human influence can be observed from a state Remote Spot. Today, we hear airplanes before and after the RSA, but not during. Also, the hiking trail is located in a line of sight about 150 feet south of the NY R-spot. If a human were to walk by, he/she would be just visible through the mixed forest. Cold River roars. What would Bob Marshall think of the 21st century remoteness of his beloved High Peaks region of the Adirondack Park?
It is wonderful having our nephew Cameron along. We already are seeing him grow after just a day and a half of elemental challenges and great philosophical discussions about how the Greatest Nation should preserve its wildlands. In fact, we all continue to grow.
Project Remote simultaneously is an educational adventure for both a family and a country.
After our scientific work is done, we do an about-face back to the leanto. The photo at right is the section of Cold River that is closest to the NY Remote Spot. It is almost, but not quite, within the 30 meter by 30 meter square margin of calculational error of the Remote Spot. For all practical purposes, if one were to do a river trip along Cold River through the High Peaks Wilderness, you would pass exactly tangent to the New York Remote Spot…food for thought for those who want a remote, in fact, the remotest, NY wilderness excursion.
On the way back to the leanto, we spot an eastern newt, one of many that we have seen on this trip. With the soaked ground from yesterday’s rain, the forest floor crawls with critters, particularly amphibians. The ancient Appalachian Mountain Chain of eastern North America is the evolutionary cradle of 7 of the world’s 8 existing salamander families, including the Salamandridae-which are newts. More salamander families exist here than anywhere else on the planet. Overall salamander species abundance and richness also are sky high here. This may be the Remotest Newt in New York.
Skyla wants to see what Cameron and Dadoo have caught. We don’t hesitate to say to Skyla all we know about a plant or an animal in full technical terminology. She has a knack for remembering species. She is particularly good with plants. After all, it was she who recognized bracken-fern yesterday because she is greatly familiar with it from Florida. Kids are ready to learn the second they arrive….Start ‘em young.
Today’s walking distance back to the car will be the 13 miles from yesterday plus the 1.7 mile round-trip we made this morning to/from the Remote Spot. All of us sort of cringe at the 14.7-mile task ahead, but the weather is incredible today, and hiking already is more enjoyable. The air behind the cool front is crisp and reduced in relative humidity. Temps are in the 60′s all day. Back home in north Florida, by law of nature, the relative humidity is no less than 80%, and afternoon temps are in the mid 90′s every single day this time of year. We don’t miss it.
We re-encounter numerous mountain creeks we crossed yesterday. They are all swollen from yesterday’s rain. Drinking water is aplenty. With such an abundance of water, we quickly learn that we don’t have to be carrying 2 heavy liters of the life-liquid on our person while we hike, but rather, we can stop at least once an hour at another creek, treat some quickly with a UV pen, then pound a half-liter at a sitting. Back at home in Florida, with the heat, you have to drink much more frequently, which means that you better be carrying enough to last. Not so up here. That’s good news for reducing the weight of our heavy packs.
At the next creek, it’s lunch time for us and siesta time for Skyla. Let’s see how long she stays asleep when we place her on the ground upright in her pack. It’s good when she does continue to sleep, especially when there are chores to do like making lunch. It’s enough labor to have to make lunch, but even more to tend to a toddler while doing so. Our break from the constancy of parenthood lasts about 15 minutes…She must have sensed her favorite thing in the world-FOOD.
Momma sets her up with a sack full of dried organic apples, and Dadoo finds her a perfect flat boulder to sit on. If we could just do something about the black flies.
Ryan enjoys a cooling foot-soaking while waiting on freeze-dried lunches to cook. When you walk into wildlands, into the raw elements of nature, for more than a day, the chances that your feet are going to get wet are nearly 100 percent. You are either going to have to wade across a creek, or it will rain on you. Forget waterproof boots. Or, as they say in parts of New York-faget about it! Yesterday, our feet got soaked in the rain, and there were numerous creek crossings. Ryan has figured out on past treks, that, once your feet get water-logged, and there are no real prospects to dry them out by the end of a given trek, the best thing to do is to keep them hydrated. Keep them soaked, that is. Frequent refreshments in creeks keep our feet cool and prevent them from pruning up or from forming hot spots. Not lying. Try it…
We encounter a nice open water pond surrounded by marshy bog. This was either created by beavers or by glacial activity and retreat. Or both…
Ryan looks at his feet and sees a wriggling black spot in the shallow pond edge…
Wow! The dark spot is a school of thousands of small, ink black tadpoles. These are from one of the toad species here. Toad tadpoles typically are found in schools of many thousands-and are black. These young toad-poles have significantly larger body size than we are used to seeing for toads of the Southeast…Interesting…Skyla likes them.
The trail system in the western High Peaks region often utilizes old logging roads that were laid in here long ago around the beginning of the 20th Century. We are reminded that almost all of the gorgeously regenerated forest that we have hiked through had been logged in the past. This is both depressing and uplifting. It’s depressing because of the reminder that most everything in the East has been ravaged by unsustainable resource extraction (especially logging) either recently or some time in the past. But the sight of old roads restoring back to wildlands or just foot trails is a very positive sign that our nation is committed to preserving at least some of its wildlands and protecting some areas from motorized vehicular assault. We at Remote Footprints believe that restoring roads back to wildlands or even to foot trails is one of the greatest ways to restore ecological function and score a conservation victory. Remoteness of the landscape is restored this way, and the myriad negative impacts roads have on the ecology are erased. We greatly commend all land managers who are doing this across the country. We also recall this happening within the Cranberry Wilderness during our West Virginia Remote Spot doccumentary trip.
It is simply delightful having Josh along with us. All during the day, one of us would pair up with Josh, who usually walked ahead. Stimulating conversation about wilderness or remoteness conservation frequently would spring up. He has a wealth of knowledge about the local ecology and history of the Adirondack Park…We extend a very special thank you to Josh and Jecinda for taking us in and letting us crash at their house in the Adirondacks the night before and the night after our remote spotting expedition. We had only communicated a couple times via email before the trip. We met as perfect strangers, and left as good friends. It is wonderful to know that there are other people all over our great nation who work extremely hard and for reasons greater than themselves…
After a 12-hour Remote Spotting day spent working in the morning and hiking all the way back…we reach the Seward car park/trailhead and find our trusty automobile. It’s soberingly ironic that we rely on the very means of travel in which we call on the country to reduce. But we do this because we believe that the knowledge we obtain while Remote Spotting is for the greater good of remote areas conservation.
The well-known middle 20th Century wilderness conservation advocate, Bob Marshall, who was mentioned earlier, lived in this region during his youth. He no doubt walked through here frequently-and probably had many of the same thoughts we are having about the conundrum of conservation in the face of an ever-expanding human population.
A day after our trip, Josh recommends a nice day hike up nearby Mt. Jo with an amazing view of a large chunk of the High Peaks Wilderness. From the top, we take in this view southward and fall in love with the great state of New York’s long-term conservation experiment that is the Adirondack Park. If only all 50 states were doing this. There are always issues to contend with, but for now, the New York Remote Spot has excellent prospects of being preserved within High Peaks wilderness, where motorized vehicular traffic was once allowed, but has long-since been prohibited.