I climbed my 13th Adirondack Park High Peak in the summer of 1988. That’s what the hiking diary I began keeping after returning home from a year at an air base in South Korea tells me. (I’m happy to have found the diary the other day in the midst of the spring cleaning chore). The mountain was Sawteeth, a 4,150-foot-high peak within the Heap Peaks Wilderness Area, and I was part of a crowd of hikers accompanying a couple to the top of their 46th High Peak. To climb all 46 Adirondack mountains with elevations greater than 4,000 feet makes one eligible for membership in the prestigious Adirondack 46ers (www.adk46r.org) club.
I’ve long harbored thoughts of becoming a 46er myself, a milestone I likely would have accomplished had I not left active duty in the Air Force and moved south to Pennsylvania. While an Adirondacker in-residence, I sometimes had hiking partners, most notably Doug Hein, my neighbor in Plattsburgh Air Force Base housing. But for many of my hikes in the North Country I trekked by myself, accompanied by the sounds of wild nature. “You mean you hiked by yourself” was the oft-repeated question asked of me as a new work week began. Yes, I did, and it taught me the difference between loneliness and solitude.
In my mind, finding something that brings joy is a precious thing. Hiking has long had that effect on me; I am always happiest when in the woods, perhaps following a switchback trail to a sumit or tracking a warbler with binoculars.
My first few solo hikes were strange. I found myself hurrying along to give myself more time just in case something happened. I became nervous when I saw clouds rolling in, and every skinned knee felt like a warning that next time it could be a twisted ankle. Arriving at my destination brought a sense of accomplishment. I remember relishing this thought upon reaching the summit of Whiteface, the Olympic mountain near Lake Placid, and eating my slightly squished sack lunch as car-bond tourists strolled past. The more I hiked the more comfortable and in touch with my surroundings I became.
My favorite Adirondack peaks are those that still have fire towers on them, big rocks like Hurricane between the hamlet of Elizabethtown to the east and the village of Keene to the west. Unlike Pennsylvania and other more developed and less “wild nature” states where public debate focuses on roads subdivisions, McMansions, air and noise pollution and the like, civil discourse in the six-million-acre Adirondack Park (half of which is publicly-owned land) is currently focused on whether to retain a couple of historic fire towers or have them removed in accordance with wilderness rules. (Read about this issue at http://pressrepublican.com/0111_environment/x258088976/APA-says-fire-towers-stay).
Hiking alone or with others is not, however, the central idea. Sure, the view from atop the summit counts a lot, but it is the experience of being in wild nature, away from street, traffic, noise, lawn mowers and more, that really matters.
Now some words about living downstream. (And guess what? We all live do.)
Anything that goes down a storm drain is eventually going to make its way into a nearby waterway, the groundwater or a river. Residents of the Nescopeck Creek valley, in which I live, reside in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which is home to hundreds of plant, fish, insect, bird and wildlife species, and – in warmer months a haven for humans who like to wade, swim, raft and otherwise frolic.
One quart of oil dumped from a lawn mower or car engine can cause a slick the size of two football fields on a surface waterway like the Nescopeck.
And despite warnings and good sense, every year people pour hazardous chemicals, paints, fertilizers, pesticides, antifreeze and used motor oil down storm drains.
Some Googling, turned up this list of tips from “Partners for Clean Water” on how to keep yucky things out of storm drains:
– Wash latex paint brushes in the sink or toilet.
– Wash your car on the lawn or go to a car wash. Use biodegradable soaps. Car washes dispose of the soapy water into the sanitary sewer.
– Don’t hose down driveways or sidewalks. Burn some calories with a broom rather than burning oil with a leaf-blower.
– Wash tools or equipment over grass or a soil-covered area where wash water will not enter the storm drain system.
– Take unusable paints, thinners and household chemicals to a household hazardous waste collection facility or hazardous waste drop-off site. Call your municipality’s office to find out where this is.
– Don’t place pet waste in a gutter or storm drain.
– If you do need to get rid of used motor oil, you can take it to one of the collection sites n now operating in this corner of the state.
Learn about bay-friendly lawn care and more from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at http://www.cbf.org.