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Adirondack Hike

10/15/05 12:00AM By Caleb Daniloff
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(HOST) A recent hike in the Adirondacks demonstrated first-hand to commentator Caleb Daniloff the power of those mighty mountains.


(DANILOFF) The Adirondacks are growing one-point-five millimeters a year, according to the Adirondack Park website.
I wonder if that's what's causing the luxury homes along South Burlington's Spear Street to grow ever taller - an ironic man-made reflection of the majestic mountain range across the lake.

No doubt the view to the west from those elaborate homes is astonishing. The rugged sweep defies our capacity to see, comprehendable only in parts. It resists definition yet without word conveys volumes - promise, wildness, insulation, a place where even the sun beds down.

So when I was asked recently to hike the Adirondacks for a writing assignment, I jumped at the chance. My wife and I often climb Mount Abe and Moosalamoo. But I'd never set foot in the Adiron- dacks - the largest publicly protected park in the continental U.S., bigger than Yellowstone, the Everglades and Grand Canyon combined.

My editor suggested a nine-mile loop that would take us over three summits known as The Brothers and then up Big Slide, one of the forty-six high peaks. The descent would bring us to a lodge for snacks and drink, then a swimming hole to wash off the sweat.

The trailhead was in Keene Valley, New York, ninety minutes from Middlebury. Right away, the woods felt different - deep, dark and vast. The paths, stitched with thick roots and studded with large rocks, were trickier, less burnished with travel. But we were mov- ing at a good clip, and I aimed to be home in time to get the mower going.

The views from the Brothers were dramatic, the fog peeling back to reveal jagged peaks across the valley. The ascent to Big Slide meant clambering up log ladders, only to find the summit socked in. We undid our packs and sat down with sandwiches. Then the sun punched through, not a sign of civilization anywhere. PB&J never tasted so good.

A few miles later, we came to a sign indicating the lodge a half-mile down. We were thirsty and killed our water. We'll be kicking back with iced tea and Snickers in no time, I said.

The narrow trail unraveled at a steep pitch. It was hard to picture a lodge on that incline. After a while, creeping doubt gave way to visions of the woods spitting us onto a darkened road miles from anywhere.

We hiked back to the sign. The number before the decimal point had eroded, who knew what digit was missing, or where we'd gone wrong. Backtracking to Big Slide felt too much like defeat, so back down we went. Frustration led to careless footing and several spills. We'd stopped talking. After nearly two hours, we came to a sign that read: John's Brook Lodge, one-point-five miles. I was too dry to spit.

An hour later, we drank greedily from a water spout. We'd gone almost five miles off course, and the trailhead was still more than three miles away. We set off from the lodge in silence, feet burning, feeling small. I wasn't sure when it had happened - probably with our first steps, maybe with that first million-dollar glimpse across the water - but the Adirondacks had taken command. For days after, when I closed my eyes, all I saw were mossy boulders and wet stone face, felt the miles embedded in my calves. The mountains had broken us and forced us to restack the pieces, human reflection at perhaps its purest. I couldn't wait to go back.

This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.

Caleb Daniloff is a freelance writer, and recipient of the 2005 Ralph Nading Hill Jr. Literary Prize.
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