Ampersand Mountain, June 22, 2019

This was the first time I’ve managed to hike Ampersand and it not be totally socked in with clouds, rain, fog and soup. On a gloriously sunny, cool, breezy and not-humid Saturday, the trailhead parking lot was a mob scene even early in the morning. We drove over from our campsite at Cranberry. Not wanting to park on road or get a ticket, we drove back another 1+ miles east on Route 3 and parked at the Middle Saranac Lake boat launch parking area where there was plenty of space, and managed to convince the kids to walk back up the road to the trailhead. This turned the day from a short–ish 5.7 mile hike to something closer to an 8+ mile hike. Well worth it either way. The issue with trail access, erosion, crowding, etc. is one we are all going to have to think hard about.

In any case, the trail was in great condition. It’s an easy stroll the first half, and then you earn it for the second half, and the totally treeless and expansive summit offers some of the finest views in the entire ADKs. Again, there are plenty of guidebooks describing the views from the top, so no need for me to recount that here. My son loved naming the peaks as we moved our eyes south from Blue Mountain and rank them counter-clockwise through the Sewards, Nye, Dix Range and up to Whiteface with numerous peaks and lakes in between. It was very cool, very breezy, and just glorious up there on this day. We lingered and lunched on cheese and apples for an hour, not wanting it to end.  Even with lots and lots of hikers, you are able to find some peace of mind here, and there are plenty of nooks and shelves up top for you to enjoy the views. If you have not yet made the trek to Ampersand, I’d highly recommend it.

Trip Lowlights: There is a really neat cave to be found on the right side of the trail just before you get to the summit. As we waited to explore it, we encountered a group of about 8 young men (late teens / early 20s) who were celebrating their friend taking a dump in the cave.

A second lowlight – there was a group of over 20 people in one of the cavalcades coming up the mountain.

Tongue Mountain Range, June 27, 2019

Definitely a high reward to effort ratio, and plenty of solitude to boot. Probably best to avoid this in bug season, I was practically carried up and down the range by a blizzard of bugs, but that could not put a damper on the day. I’d advice you to set aside 90 mins or more for lingering on overlooks and peaks, and to take a dip down in Lake George when you get to the tip of the Tongue, if not more.

On this day the conditions were a bit muddy in spots, which slows you down quite a bit. On a dry day this is 6 hours of walking. I’d recommend planning 8-9 hours or more and really enjoying it.

There are plenty of trip descriptions elsewhere on line. All I will add is that when you first get to the top of Fifth Peak, you get some much needed silence. You are a bit far away to hear the boat motors in front or the traffic on Route 9N behind – one of the decreasingly few places remaining where you hear little but your own breaths and the buzz of a menagerie of insects, and the breeze through the shrubs and trees and grasses. As you walk south down the Range, you get closer to both water and highway, and the physical solitude you are very likely to enjoy the entire time has regular interruptions by the sounds of Lake George revelry. By the time you get down from Frenchmens then First then down to Northwest Bay, you are in a veritable boating manic playground – with enormous Harley Davidson engine sounding powerboats blasting through the choppy lake, radios blasting and engine exhaust belching.

The returning 5 miles from the end of the Tongue mostly follows the lakeshore, in many spots just a few yards away. The trail is really muddy for about 30% of it, but it’s a pretty quick walk out.

It would be great to do this hike earlier in year when more wildflowers are on display and before the bugs and boaters descend on your peace of mind.  Covered about 12.6 miles with detours in 7 hours.

Prospect Mountain

If you stay in one of the kitchy 1960s style “resorts” on the west side of Lake George down in the village, you are walking distance from a lot of neat little shops and restaurants. It’s kitchy, but nothing like Gatlinburg, it has an old-timey vibe to it, and also a Long Island vibe too. In any case, Prospect Mountain looms right behind the town, and you can walk there from your resort if you are so inclined. We were in a rush after a great day on the boat (took a full-day tour of the entire lake on the Mohican, which included a couple cannon blasts and fantastic views of all of sites and homes). I needed exercise, and wanted to see the peak, yet my gang wanted dinner. So I ran from the hotel and up to the top – you can get up there in less than an hour doing this, it took less than 45 mins for me. I got to trailhead along the Northway at 4:42 and was on the summit marker at 5:23. Was signed out of the trail register by 6pm after hanging on top for a bit. This is actually a decently strenuous little hike, not at all like the lovely grades we saw on Brown or down in Tennessee this year. So, while it says “kid friendly” I’d expect some unhappy mucking up this one if you are not prepared.

Brown Mountain in the Tongue Range

Probably among the best views you are going to get of the Lake George Narrows from the west side of the lake. The hike was really pretty, gentle grade, though my companions were a little scared of the rattlesnake warnings. This would be a wonderful through hike of the entire range. After Brown, we ventured over to the Deer Jump, but did not get too near the (hard to find) cliffs that are very prominent when you look up at it from the water.

Note to get that view of the narrows and the islands, you need to bushwack a little bit north of the actual summit of Brown and the lookout that you may be inclined to settle for. It is well worth doing it (only a few hundred yards anyway).

Ampersand

Or as they say it should be, “Amber Sand.” Either way, one couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of one’s face on this day! Will have to come back on a bluebird day.

Noonmark

Took an impromptu camping trip with Isaac and Amelia from July 4 through July 6 and decided it would be easiest for them, and most fun for all, to camp right in Lake Placid. We were lucky that by arriving on the 4th, many people had cleared out of Wilmington Notch campground and when we arrived by 5pm we quickly dropped off our kayaks (after a lovely paddle on Lower Cascade Lake on the way in) and headed for the town.

Despite it being the 4th and crowded, getting around town was manageable and everyone was in a jolly good mood. We had to, of course, stop for a couple of beers (Pacific Jade IPA and Black IPA) at the Lake Placid Brewery, where a yummy meal was had, a fun game of cornhole was played and we serendipitously ran into old friends from Rochester who were enjoying a drink in the courtyard.

As luck would have it, we had about an hour of a warm (yet with a slight refreshing cooling breeze) evening to stroll through the village, pass by the Olympic sites (can you imagine an Olympics being held there now? This website is not meant for this kind of commentary) and then making our way past the many restaurants, bars and ice cream shops until settling into a chocolate shop for our delightful late-night sweets. As it darkened past 9pm, we hurriedly made our way toward the public beach and found a nice place to sit on the grass outside the church and saw a terrific fireworks show that was being blown off on the north side of Mirror Lake.

Let the kids sleep in, a cool night, stopped in the Stewarts in Keene for a quick breakfast, and then made our way to the trailhead in St. Huberts (right across from the Giant/Roaring Brook trailhead) by about 10:15.  The plan was to go slow, keep our feet moving, and hopefully make a summit in about 2.5 to 3 hours. The trail I picked because it would be sure to have plenty of open rock to explore, have great views, and be a “real enough” hike so that the kids could feel accomplished from doing it, and also to give them a glimpse for what a High Peak trail may look like, should that mood ever strike them. While I have trucked the kids all over the country and had them walking and hiking all over the place, I’ve never really challenged them. We figured Amelia might be in good enough shape to actually enjoy it, at least until the hike dragged on, and we hoped Isaac would be captured by the adventure enough to make his way up. The hike is roughly 2.5 miles each way, the trail I chose, and on a good day this could be a 3 hour round trip – it ended up being about 5 on this day — all in all not bad because we made it, plus it also enabled us to have lots and lots of extra time to enjoy the rest of the day, which we surely did.

In any event, without too much of the detail, the trail ascends pretty sharply the entire way – as any hike from St. Huberts and Keene Valley is going to start on a low elevation (for example, doing Porter from down in Marcy Field would require over 4,000 vertical feet of climbing). And this was no different. The trail climbed fairly steadily and sharply, and was in its usual Adirondack muddy glory – with nary a step on the first half of the hike being dry and not requiring our attention. With Isaac going very slowly (and accusing me of child abuse), Amelia was bounding, and I was just enjoying the sights and smells again of the ADKs, after 2016 was a no-go injury frustration year for me. I can certainly say that the big-hike bug has bitten me, and each step I was quietly taking on this little trek had me mentally planning all kinds of cool adventures. I think I’ve settled on a few – that will be in a coming post.

In any event, Isaac slogged his way very slowly, stopping very 100 steps or so, but still managed to make his way to the first real scenic overlook – my guess is at about 2,400 feet – with a commanding view of the washbowl in the middle of Giant and the peak. We were also able to see the AMR club down below, which helped the kids appreciate how much they had climbed already – well over 1,000 feet in a short distance.

After the first overlook, the footing improves, but the trail steepens and becomes rocky, and there seems to be a spectacular turnout/view every 1/8 of a mile or so. If one lingers on all of them you may never get to the top.

Ultimately, Amelia and I made it to 3,556′ – which puts Noonmark in the top 100 in the ADKs, and would place it easily in top 30 in Catskills. This was as rewarding a hike as you can do in the ADK’s – I should have counted peaks, but the view from the top, open in all directions, is as commanding as any you can secure in the high peaks. The entire great range is in view, with an expanse from southwest to northeast of Haystack and Marcy both looming way off in distance, and decent look at Basin and Saddleback, with terrific views of Gothics, Armstrong and the jaws (and Hedgehog) and the best view of the notch between the jaws I remember seeing, showing just how steep the short climb between them was. As you move south over the summit, you get wonderful views of Colvin and Blake (but can’t see the lakes below) and moving your eyes west of there see Bear Den, Dial and Nippletop (Amelia still giggles) and taking your gaze further east you have just an amazing view of Dix with many of its north facing slides – and the really steep, narrow, sharp ridged Hunter’s Pass running between the Dixes and Pinnacle Ridge – I don’t remember ever seeing that view, maybe you can get it from Giant, but it was cloudy/foggy/raining when I was up there so never had quite this angle. It was a site to behold. You could make out the peak of Hough popping up behind Dix, and you could make out Grace (formerly East Dix). We had such a clear day! Looking further east from here you could see well into the Champlain Valley and Vermont, and turning the gaze back toward the north had a wonderful look, really more of a smack in the face, of Rocky Peak then Giant. One could then turn North and have a spectacular look right up Keene Valley, with Marcy Field in view, with the AMR club in view, and with Whiteface way off in the distance to the north. Looking a little west from there you could see slide, and I am sure Cascade and Porter but I really don’t have a good image of where they are and what they look like in my head, and we sadly had to hurry down off of a peak one could spend hours and hours on. You could see dozens and dozens of other lesser peaks too, I’ll spare you from me naming them all here, but it is a fun orientation/orienteering exercise.

There were a few hikers we saw on the peak and along the way – a pair of young friends who clearly knew the other peaks around them, and several groups of young hikers which included a diverse group which was a nice change to see in the ADKS – light years ahead of what one would notice out West for example., We also enjoyed the company of a couple, about 70 years old and in terrific hiking shape, from Philly, who recommended we stop over at Big Crow on way out of town on next day. We apologize for not going there, but decided to spend following day exploring Marcy Field since weather was rolling in, and made a quick drive to Forked Lake (pronounced For Ked) since the weather to the west was better. We had a terrific time paddling our kayaks on this undeveloped lake, visiting a few islands, fishing, and dreaming of future paddles and camping trips here. In any case, we made our way down in short time, much faster than coming up despite the footing, and were back at the car by 3-ish. Isaac was feeling good about being done, and Amelia certainly felt accomplished not just by finishing, but bounding her way up, and being mentally strong for last 1/2 mile when the hiking was steep but rewards were great and focus was needed. I know neither of them ache to hike hundreds of miles, but Amelia for sure is motivated to do her first 46er soon, and both were enamored by the great views and wildness of even this not so wild hike.

With the hike done, we did of course have to go to the Noonmark Diner (even though we sort of stuffed our faces with apples, cheddar, almonds and M&Ms up on the mountain) and we shared a Blackberry Crumb Pie, a Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and a Chocolate Cream pie. All were delicious. I would say best we’ve had, but that might be hiker-speak talking.

We had lots of time for rest of day, as we drove past the excellent Mountaineer Shop we saw that they were installing a cool new road sign that seemed to be a wooden and iron mountaineering axe, drove our way up the Jay/Wilmington valley along the rushing Ausable, turned back onto 86, and made our way to 4 different supremely pretty (and buggy) fishing spots to cool off in the waters (where it was calm) and to try our hand at trout. With it being later in the day, and us having trusty marshmallows, I though we would land at least a small rainbow, but it was not to be. In any case, the kids and I spent a good 2 hours enjoying the lowering sun and gleaming river. We then drove to town and fished off the boat launch on the actual Lake Placid (paddling that to the other end up North to hike the backside of Whiteface would be a great paddle/hike!), then for a swim at the very pretty beach area on Mirror Lake, and then of course for a traditional meal at Mr. Mike’s pizza. I happen to love the place, and enjoyed a Big Slide IPA with our calamari, ravioli and pizza. Amazingly, kids had more energy than I did on this night, and they wanted to walk town again – this time we made it all the way to the end, almost going to see a 9:45 showing of Despicable Me 3 at the theater, but instead settling for ice cream in waffle cones from Emma’s. We took our time driving back to the campground and heads hit pillows and zonked immediately at 11:00pm.

Noonmark is a must-do hike regardless of one’s plans for the ADK’s. I imagine it compares very favorably to Ampersand – which I also hiked years ago but was again socked in by so much fog and rain that I could barely see the yellow paint marks on the summit much less any of the views to the south that would be so awesome. The views are as good as from any high peak, not just for their expansiveness, but for the variety of what you can see from up top – excepting much water, alas.

 

ADK Great Range Traverse

If you would have told me even when I was in my best shape as a college athlete, or a few short years ago, that I’d be writing about doing such a trek I’d either have laughed, concluded I must have contracted the Big Casino, or lost some kind of a torturous bet.

The very quick backstory is mildly interesting. Since my football career was abruptly ended as a college sophomore, for a while I tried to lift and continue in football training mode. That lasted until about 6 months after I graduated – and the combination of investment banking and a realization that having a neck as wide as my waste and getting pinned under 500 lbs of squat weight was really serving very little purpose, and probably not too healthy. So I stopped lifting and pretty much kept to a light cardio regiment for many, many years – something like 2.5-3.0 miles per run, three or four days per week, with some other hiking and sports mixed in.

Fast forward to January 2012. I had been in what I thought was reasonably good shape for a 37 year old, but never really pushing myself since football ended. I was sitting at a bouncy-house place for a birthday party, in one of those plastic backed metal chairs, with my legs kicked forward on another chair watching an NFL playoff game. After two hours in that position, I tried to get up, and could barely move. Like some really decrepit old person, I thought to myself, “goodness, my lower back has gone out.” My little 5 year old daughter had to help me walk to the car. After a couple of weeks of not really being able to twist, turn or do much of anything, I caved and went to my doctor (I don’t really have a doctor, I just went to the person that was closest to me and in the network), after a minute he looked with expectant pity on me, encouraged me to do some exercises, and told me to basically “enjoy” the coming “cascade of degeneration.”

Well, that was the spark that took me back to the intensity that I tried hard to bring to football training. Washed up and on a decline at age 37? One of the ways that our younger selves stay optimistic as our football careers end is that we read a lot about how endurance stuff is really for the older folks, and that the prime of running, biking, kayaking, and so on lay out before us, and we could do those things until we kicked the bucket. And now, I’m told that I’m on a cascade of degeneration! “Doesn’t this doctor know ANYTHING about me?!” I asked myself? In any event, that comment was the beginning of my mid-life crisis.

As I ramped up my stretching, strengthening and cardio regimen that winter and spring the back started to feel a bit better, and I set my eyes on scheduling a couple of days hiking on top of increasing the frequency of my running (and now skating too).The hiking season began with some easy leg stretchers out west and upon my return I decided to start with a fairly heady hike to see if I had the constitution to continue. The plan was to do a Dix Range traverse, but setting up base camp at the Slide Brook camp at the base of Macomb to make the day just a little less precarious for a first-timer. On the way into the park, I camped at Lake Harris and decided to “warm up” on Ampersand. Ampersand is over 3,000 feet and is in the Western High Peaks. It is a short hike by High Peaks standards, but it does have some good and steady climbing and supposedly a terrific view. Well, I woke up to a thick fog, and within 20 minutes of hiking was huffing and puffing as I had not experienced in years. An hour into the hike I had thoroughly convinced myself that not only was hiking the 46 lunacy, that I had no prayer at doing the Dixes, or even making it to the top of Ampersand,

Then I remembered the “cascade of degeneration.” Never in my life had I thought like that before. Long story short, made it to Ampersand but sadly had not more than 25 feet of views, drove around the park to the Elk Lake trailhead, marched into the Dixes with my heavy pack, set up camp, ate like a champ, slept like a champ and the next day with a start at 7am was on the top of my first High Peak (Macomb) by 8:15am, on the top of the fifth High Peak of the day, Dix, by 3:30pm, and back to my car with camp packed and a totally changed mindset by 6:30 or so.

Well, 2014 was a fun summer, with me completing the 46 by hiking 27 of them, and by the end of the summer I was feeling great and had managed to include several really long days and very much enjoyed them. It was after running up Phelps, Tabletop then over to Nye and Street that I started to think I could actually consider doing some more of the terrific hikes that I’ve read so much about. A week later I was able to do Haystack, Basin and Saddleback – loving every minute of it on a perfect day and finishing in 10 hours that I thought of doing some even longer hikes and perhaps the Range. The longest one I ended up doing (I think) was my last of the year … doing all of the Macs, and the Colden from Lake Colden, to finish the 46.

By the time this spring rolled around I was probably in the best shape I had been in in a very long time – with my weight a good 25-30 pounds below football weight, and 20 pounds below the time when the doctor told me I was done for. Running has ramped up with 4-6 days of 4-5 miles per session – a big change from where I once was, and the runs are actually quite enjoyable. Felt so good this year that after a couple 10 mile hikes up and around the Finger Lakes hills, I thought I’d just see how I could handle a really big hike. Seeking solitude and some approaches and trails I had not seen before, I decided to hike in from Elk Lake along Pinnacle Ridge, over Blake, down to Upper Ausable Lake, and then trek all the way up to Haystack and return to Elk Lake via Panther Gorge. The trails were a disaster, but I felt great the entire day and did the thing in about 14 hours. The entire time hiking along the ridge and certainly while sitting atop Haystack, the Great Range loomed and I could only wonder how that would compare to what I had been in the middle of.

America's Hardest Dayhikes

Fast forward a few weeks – for my second hike of the year (I only get the chance to get out 3 or 4 times per year), I awaited a no chance of rain (or so it seemed) day, with a few days of no rain prior, and tons of daylight, While I have no issues walking with a lamp, I really wanted to be finishing the GRT in the daylight and to make it to my own bed that night should I do it.

My typical routine has been leaving Rochester around 3pm, making a stop to have a snack in very pretty Speculator/Lake Pleasant and then make my way to the rest stop on the Northway just south of 73. After the half-pound or so of Mac n Cheese, got a good night’s sleep and was at the trailhead sometime after 3am.

Pretty spot on Lake Pleasant for my typical snack stop

Pretty spot on Lake Pleasant for my typical snack stop

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High Peaks rest area

A little earlier start than usual

A little earlier start than usual, July 6, 2015

The plan was to do the GRT counterclockwise, and most important for me the plan was to walk the entire loop. Now, there are all kinds of ways I suppose you might do the Range, even in the direction I chose – some start at the HPIC and truck up Marcy from there (it’s the “closest” approach to Marcy) then come down the Range and out at Rooster Comb, others do it clockwise and end up at the HPIC (via the Van Ho) or perhaps clockwise up the Range and out via the Phelps trail and the Garden. In all of those cases people either stash a bike to finish the loop (most likely with Garden finish) or perhaps even spot cars or thumb rides. I wanted to do the whole loop, partially because I am not really keen on hitching rides, but mostly because I like the idea of the full loop being walked for this one. The tradeoff I made is that I would park at Rooster Comb (which is just a few seconds south of the middle of Keene Valley village), then walk the mile or so from there to the trailhead at the Garden.

Rooster Comb trailhead

Rooster Comb trailhead

Hang a left here for the Garden, and you have a surprising 500' or so climb up to the trailhead

Hang a left here for the Garden, and you have a surprising 500′ or so climb up to the trailhead

Among the many small delights on this day

Among the many small delights on this day

At the trailhead by 4am.

At the trailhead by 4am. The sign says Marcy is only 9 miles from here.

The walk up the road to the Garden trailhead required a decent little climb to start the day. It was a nice warmup actually, and there were a few streetlights, so managed to walk the thing without recourse to the headlamp. Note that my “deal” with myself was that since I was walking the extra mileage and uphill and making the long entry into Marcy via Garden as opposed to Van Ho, that I would skip Rooster Comb on the way back – also with the hope that I would be in bed home in Rochester before midnight. In any case, signed the trail-register, tightened my boots, donned the headlamp, and was very excited to prepare a brisk walk into JBL where I thought I’d stop to have a breakfast bar and refill a liter of water. The hope was a quick 3.5 miles to Johns Brook Lodge, and be there by 5am. I had no reason to think this wouldn’t happen since the last two times I came in and out on the Phelps trail, it was in fantastic condition and wasn’t entirely boulder and root strewn. Plus, I had waited for a week where there was no rain for several days before-hand and when I would be hiking in good weather. I always find it fun, and important, to make as much good time and distance as I can on the easy parts of the hikes, so I can be more careful, or perhaps see more stuff, later on. Well, not on this day. While surely I was able to move “well” by objective standards, it took closer to 90 minutes to make it through the endless river of muck and mud and slick roots and rocks that the Phelps had become in this very wet and cool early summer. I should have known better after the surfing safari I took a few weeks prior over at Elk Lake.

By the time I had finished my breakfast bar and topped off my water (by the way, on a dry day this would really be one of the few places to get water, and the hike is barely started here) it was around 5:30, and I was already behind my targeted 16 hour pace.

Looking back at JBL as I head toward Slant Rock.

Looking back at JBL as I head toward Slant Rock.

The trail beyond JBL and up to Slant Rock was good for ADK trails but still much slower than I had hoped based on the last time I was up to do the Upper Great Range. The next 3.3 miles to Slant Rock took about an hour and a half, and in this case some time was lost due to nearly 10 minutes of me trying to figure out how to safely ford the brook, which was running ridiculously high and I was in no mood to wade in on this day nor was I wanting to take any leaps or jumps that I was not 100% sure about. I have the voice of my wife ingrained in my head, “I don’t care if you die, but you have children!” (OK, she doesn’t say exactly that, but in her head it is something close to it)

Slant Rock, 7:15am

Slant Rock, 7:15am

From Slant Rock the climb to Marcy begins. For those of you wanting to climb Marcy, don’t be intimidated by the 18 mile round-trip from Phelps trail. The trail on most days is in excellent condition, and ascending the 4,000+ feet from the Garden over such a long stretch really leaves you without much really serious climbing until you are near the summit (well, there are some spots).

Perhaps a little dramatic, at least if you are well prepared. But, after reading

Perhaps a little dramatic, at least if you are well prepared. But, after reading “Not Without Peril,” maybe there is no such thing.

Another of the small delights, managed to snap this as the phone was falling out of my sweaty hands and the little guy was running like heck away from me.

Another of the small delights, managed to snap this as the phone was falling out of my sweaty hands and the little guy was running like heck away from me.

Take the time to take in the smells, the small creatures, the flora – it really does make days like this into super special. But … we have a long way to go, we’ll use some other posts for such reflections.

After you leave Slant Rock the trail steepens a bit until you get to the base of the summit cone for Marcy (oh yeah, did I mention that Marcy would be my first stop on the day, and that I’d be making my way “down” Range the rest of the day?). Don’t be fooled that since you are nearing a summit cone you will somehow emerge from the mucky trails. No sir-ee! There are few summits in the High Peaks that are themselves dry either, believe it or not, and Marcy was no different today.

Typical trail this year ... was fighting this all summer.

Typical trail this year … was fighting this all summer.

Just go through it

Just go through it

First views of the day over 3 hours in.

First views of the day over 3 hours in.

After the air cooled and the views started coming, my energy kicked up a bit and it was a nice, steady, steep, but enjoyable climb up slab to the summit of Marcy. Made it by 8:30, about 5 hours since I parked the car, and well over 4 hours from the trailhead. I was hoping to have summited 45 minutes earlier, but the slop and stream crossings really took a toll, though I was feeling strong and excited about what lie ahead.

The Marcy summit cone

The Marcy summit cone

Plaque, just below true summit

Plaque, just below true summit

Next stop, Haystack.

Next stop, Haystack. Panther Gorge looming. Little Haystack is bump to left.

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Colden in foreground with MacIntyre Range behind (tall one just to right and behind Colden is Algonquin, off to the right shoulder of Algonquin is Wright and the smallish peak to left of Algonquin and directly behind Colden is Boundary, then over to its left is Iroquois. Marshall is to left of Iroquois (South) with a deep gorge between. Just beyond those is Wallface (as cool looking as its name sounds) and MacNaughton (4,000 feet but not on “list”)

Spent about 30 minutes up there – it was a bit hazy and though I had meticulously studied the weather and by all accounts today was supposed to be perfect, it appeared that some storms might be rolling up. It turned out to be a haze that stayed with me all day – but at least it was cool and comfortable out. This was my second time on Marcy – which though it is one of the longest treks to get to among the High Peaks, is typically among the busiest, mostly because at 5,344′ it stands as the tallest peak in New York State – so it was wonderful that for the second time I had this place all to myself. The previous time was on my Cliff-Redfield-Gray-Skylight-Marcy trek and it was nearly 9:30am when I was on Marcy last and still had it to myself.  Both visits left me a tiny bit flummoxed however because I know there is a summit marker up there, and I am sure I walked right on top of it, but both times I failed to see it. I walked over toward Colden where indications suggest that it is, then walked, quite literally, in a grid, over every square inch of the highest part of the summit, and still saw lots of holes in the rock, but no marker. Oh well, I guess I never made it to the summit.

From Marcy you get a great view of Haystack and Little Haystack. Panther Gorge looms, but it is not as yawning and imposing a gap from here as it is from the other side on Haystack – mostly because Marcy has a smoother, wider summit than Haystack.  Made it back down to the Range Trail junction toward Haystack by 9:15, and had the steady climb of apx one mile up to Haystack, up and over Little Haystack on the way.

Finally, onto the range trail

Finally, onto the range trail

Looking back at Marcy as I begin the approach to Haystack

Looking back at Marcy as I begin the approach to Haystack

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Little Haystack and Haystack as we begin our ascent

Started to feel pretty good at about this point and remembered my long distance hiking mantra … don’t stop! Just keep walking and you’ll make good time, even as you take extra care to make sure every step is a sure step.

On the final approach …

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And onto the summit by quarter to 10 – so made really nice time from Marcy.  Haystack has got to be one of my top 5 favorite peaks in the ADKs, perhaps top 10 of all I have ever done. Being the third highest peak in NYS, it gets less traffic than the two higher ones, but the really nice part of Haystack is that you get to actually see the highest peak, plus you get far better views of the Great Range and I believe can see more peaks from here than Marcy. The summit is not as expansive as Marcy, but there are plenty of nooks on the summit, and a lower elevation toward the south that you can find some solitude on should you have to share it. I did have to share on this day, but we all kept to ourselves. This was my third time up on Haystack. From here you get your first real solid views of just how far you have to go on the rest of the day, and some decent perspective on how far you’ve come.

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Skylight and Marcy over Panther Gorge looking WSW from Haystack

Basin and Saddleback to the East

Basin and Gothics to the East (Saddleback is hidden in between them!)

Looking SSE back many miles toward Elk Lake. Last time I was up here on Haystack, started the hike from back therem over Pinnacle Ridge, down to Ausable Lake and up here to Haystack.

Looking SSE back many miles toward Elk Lake. Last time I was up here on Haystack, started the hike from back therem over Pinnacle Ridge, down to Ausable Lake and up here to Haystack.

Walking a little bit off the south side of the summit enabled me to finally get a glimpse of Saddleback, though the cliffs are not yet in view.

Basin is the hump in the left foreground, you can see the

Basin is the hump in the left foreground, you can see the “saddle” of Saddleback lower and just to its right (that saddle is a short trek, it is probably the nicest walk on the top of the Range however) and then the glaring hulk in the middle of the frame is the South side of Gothics. Sawteeth (not part of the Great Range) is off to the right, and if you look in the distance you have the Dixes, between them is the Pinnacle Ridge containing Colvin and Blake.

Walked off of Haystack at 10:05 (always a thought about when I might next be back, if ever …). Onto Basin. The last time I had hiked the upper Great Range the trail was dry, but on this day it was a stream flowing down from Haystack and into the col between Haystack and Basin. Had I realized how much water would have been up here on the Range (which is usually bone dry) I may have chosen to forego 3 of the 5 liters I was carrying and brought my pump instead. Still made decent time, but didn’t exactly run down. This is one of the steeper hikes in the ADKs that I’ve done, but nothing treacherous. The climb up to Basin from the col is one of the most fun scrambles in the peaks, it includes one spot where a ladder comes in handy.

Basin, from down in the col near the intersection with the trail down to the Warden's Camp.

Basin, from down in the col near the intersection with the trail down to the Warden’s Camp.

A quick climb up from here (really) and made the summit by 11:30 – again, slower than I had planned or wanted, but not bad given the footing on this day.

USGS marker on Basin, third peak of the day.

USGS marker on Basin, third peak of the day.

You’d be hard pressed to have a convincing argument about which of the Great Range peaks has the best views – they are all really spectacular, and for me the best thing about them is not the single view from any one spot on any one particular peak, but to see not only the range, but the Johns Brook Valley below and the Macs in the distance on one side and the Dixes in the distance on the other and Whiteface way off in the distance ahead, and see how they rise and fall from view as you hop from peak to peak on the range. It really is best to think of them as a long, bumpy, continuous summit upon which you stumble for different perspectives of the High Peaks.

Haystack and Little Haystack in foreground, Colden in the middle and Macs in the distance. Marcy is not in this image.

Haystack and Little Haystack in foreground, Colden in the middle and Macs in the distance. Marcy is not in this image.

Having done Marcy, Haystack and Basin, you are about at the halfway point in terms of hours, at least as I planned it. Had only just tapped into my second liter or water. I wasn’t much hungry at this point, but forced down a PB sandwich and bite of Clif Bar and was quickly off down the range toward Saddleback. The walk down the backside of Basin is a bit steep in spots. It wouldn’t be all that treacherous were in not for the fantastic views over the Johns Brook Valley that magnetically pull your head up and out instead of watching for handholds and safe steps. Only a few minutes into the descent you get a great glimpse of Big Slide off in the distance and then finally a clear view of Saddleback.

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JB Valley, with Slide way off in distance

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Saddleback and her two bumps in the foreground, Gothics looming beyond

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Still plenty of downclimbing to go, but through the trees we can finally get a decent look at the “Cliffs”

Once down into the Basin-Saddleback Col, it’s a really, really quick march over to the base of the Cliffs. The best part of climbing the Cliffs is that when you get to the top, you are basically at the top – unlike several other cliffy spots in the ADKs that hit you well below the summit. The last time I was up here, I just sort of picked my way up the Cliffs without thinking too much. This time, as I got to the base, three women hikers were hovered above me, a bit anxious about how they were going to navigate their way down. They had full-ish looking packs on and scanned the rock for decent places to step down. They seemed to be about my height and I was not really envying their position, as this time as I scaled up the Cliffs there were two spots I chose to climb up that sort of required full-body hugs of rocks just to make it up, one of them being a little bit more exposed than many other places. But they were fun.

Looking up an easier portion of the Saddleback Cliffs

Looking up a portion of the Saddleback Cliffs

This is sort of what you have in mind when you think of “Mountain Climbing.” I wished I were a couple of inches taller, as there were a few handholds I simply could not get to, but the entire time I was climbing this time I couldn’t help but think of what these would be like in an icy-winter. There’s a reason they make crampons and ice axes. And then I thought about the folks who bring their dogs – I just don’t see how a dog could get up here under her own power. Once to the top, the women I saw decided to turn around and they asked me to take their picture at the summit – dumb me never asked them to take one of me. The view of Basin from this side isn’t nearly as imposing as from the Haystack side, and you really can’t get a great look at the rest of the Range (unfortunately really, I never really got a fantastic look over at the Wolfjaws, Armstrong and Gothics from a vantage point that I wanted).

Made the summit in a little more than a half-hour from Basin, again a bit more time than it took me last time, but I was not running as the day was still long ahead of me, and I also didn’t want to take a false step on a still very slippery and wet trail.

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Slides on back side of Basin, with Pinnacle Ridge running along top left of picture, with Upper Ausable Lake running off into Boreas Ponds in distance

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Basin, with Haystack sneaking her head over Basin’s left shoulder and Marcy peaking per head over her right.

Forced down some M&Ms and salted almonds and half a gatorade and made my way over the saddle at around 12:30, to the false summit of Saddleback and began the descent toward the Saddleback-Gothics col, which is where you can bail back to JBL and the Garden via the Ore-Bed Brook trail. That Ore-bed trail is home to an incredible, newly constructed, wooden staircase that seems to go on for a quarter-mile or more along new slide. As you make your descent you get a fantastic view of Gothics. As you peer at it you notice first that it is hulking, second that it is very close, third that you can actually see the entire footpath up (this is the famed “Cable Route) and fourth, you realize that you are not actually looking at its summit, but rather its more Southern -Western false summit.

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From the col and the intersection with the Ore-Bed trail (only a 15 minute hike down the half-mile from Saddleback), you have “only” a little more than a half-mile to the Gothics summit. But immediately upon leaving the col the trail climbs … sharply … and on entirely solid, rocky ground. This is the first time in the day that I felt a bit like I was bonking, I think because I tried to keep a solid steady pace up the steepening slab … but it was far steeper than it looked, but not steep enough to climb, which is perhaps the most tough on your body. By the time I made it to the cables, I had to have been going at well less than a mile-per-hour.

Gothics cables, sort of helpful, though I am not entirely sure why they are there (certainly as compared to several other place in the peaks).

Gothics cables, sort of helpful, though I am not entirely sure why they are there (certainly as compared to several other place in the peaks).

Despite my treacherously slow ascent of Gothics, was up on top at 1:00pm. I expect summits like this to have a crowd on them, as they are not nearly as far or difficult to get to as some others, but also because of the commanding views and the large, flat summit that can easily accommodate dozens of hikers. But this was one of those times when my patience was worn. It only took a handful of folks up there really causing a ruckus that sort of ruins the moment(s) for other folks up there. I don’t want to be that “hiker guy who is a d!ck about hiking” but these folks were blasting their iPhone speakers, shouting at each other, tossing food scraps around on the summit, and just not being respectful of the fact that there were several other people up there, and also perhaps that peace and quiet as one looks at and enjoys the views is probably a nice thing – it’s not easy to get to places like the top of Gothics, where the sound and sight of cars and civilization are barely noticed, and for which you have the chance to think and breathe clearly for a while. It just really put a damper on my day, especially after my slog up to the peak, and it turned my mindset from one of really enjoying the day, to purposefully marching through the rest of my hike.

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One of the many great views from the Top of Gothics. Worth 1000 (unspoken) words.

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I cropped the image since I couldnt really get a good shot of the Range for over 30 minutes without the visitors on top being somewhere in the image … in any case this is one of the last views of the entire upper range you will get, with the false summit of Gothics in foreground, Saddleback and its slides over to the right, a sub-summit of Basin just behind, with Basin just behind that virtually in center of the picture. Directly behind Basin is Marcy and off to the left is Haystack. You can also see Skylight in between Marcy and Haystack and you can see in the distance to the left of Haystack, Redfield. From the right in the distance is Algonquin, Iroquois and Colden. You can actually see many more than what I marked in this picture, the view is really expansive (off to right and not pictured you’d see Wright, you see little Mt. Jo, and Phelps and Tabletop and Slide and a host of unnamed others, with Giant looming behind me).

Despite the distractions, stayed up there until 1:30 and began the 0.8 mile trek over to Armstrong. Last time I was on the lower range (now on the ADK Range Trail and not the Blue marked State Range Trail) I came up Gothics from Armstrong, and loved the walk up through the track of slab. It was pretty nice going down despite the slipperiness in spots. Once down into the Gothics-Armstrong col, which takes less than 15 minutes to get to, you have a chance to exit via the Ausable Club to your East should you choose, or you can continue on and finish the Range (with a few more places to get out on the way).

On the homestretch, only Armstrong, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw to go.

On the homestretch, only Armstrong, Upper and Lower Wolfjaw to go.

Just a little more than 15 minutes from the Col, you emerge onto Armstrong right at 2:00pm, and now have my second wind – perhaps because I expect to have the trail and summits to myself for the rest of the way. Folks don’t talk much about it, but for me the neatest part of this peak is the great view of Saddleback you get from it – you are 180 degrees opposite from the view you crane your neck to get way back on Haystack and Basin.

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Saddleback, from the front side. Last time up here I saw two fellows climbing that slide off to the right.

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The remaining Range.

The rest of the lower range is “famous” for not having great views, and for the summits being a bit farther apart than the summits from the upper range. Further, lots of folks seem to get a sense of dread when thinking about the steep descent and ascent required to get from Upper to Lower Wolf Jaw. However, both times I was here I really enjoyed this part of the walk. The walk over from Armstrong to Upper Wolf Jaw had me a bit more anxious during my planning than the jaws themselves, mostly due to what I recall was a super steep and very slippery few sections climbing up Armstrong. On this day however, this part of the trail was actually in good condition, in fact the trail was getting drier and had better footing as I moved along, and this is likely why I was moving more quickly at the end of the day than at the beginning. In any case, aside from the ladder on Armstrong, the descent was not at all what I remember the ascent to be, and I do not recall passing through any treacherous drops on the way down, certainly on this day the walk down Basin toward Saddleback was much more harrowing (not the right word, it was a good walk) than this particular section.

Made it to the summit of Upper Wolf Jaw by quarter to three. Again spent some unplanned stop time up here, mostly to chat with a very nice guy who was backpacking the lower range, and seemed to be continuing along where I was going. His pack was large and heavy looking, I felt bad for him, but he had a great attitude and was very well prepared for what he was doing (including a can of bear spray hanging from his pack.

There are some decent views (objectively they are actually really nice, but after roaming the Range for the previous X hours, they don’t quite stack up), and after taking another liter of water down, began the mile down to the col between the jaws – there are a couple of ups and downs required to get you there, I much prefer that to a relentless and steep single climb down.

on Upper Wolf Jaw, glancing over toward the Lower Jaw.

on Upper Wolf Jaw, glancing over toward the Lower Jaw.

As you climb down into the col, there are spots where you almost, sort-of, can see through trees – it’s a bit dangerous because you find yourself creening your neck for views as you hike instead of being careful with your footwork. In any case, make quick down to the col by 3:25 …

About to be swallowed by the Wolf? In the jaws' bottom.

About to be swallowed by the Wolf? In the jaws’ bottom.

Met another couple of climbers in the col, who seemed to not be very excited about the pending steep walk up to the Lower Jaw. Seeing the end in sight, and finally really getting loosened up and having some excellent and dry footing had me feeling great. So, I ran up the last 1/2 mile on the range to the top of the Jaws in less than 20 minutes, and was up just after 3:40.

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Folks don’t particularly love the view from here, because it is hard to get one. At this point, the day was about 12 hours old, and 8 peaks old, and I finally started getting the end of the walk in my head. I had half expected a semi-joggable track on the way out, but I should have known better. The 5 miles out, just as the entry in, took a little more than I had hoped. Shortly after leaving the Jaws, you walk down a nice ridge but then some slick and loose rock as you drop to Hedgehog (peak #9). I was hoping that from Hedgehog or near it you would get a nice view of the day’s walk, but none such was to be found. Being a little disappointed with that, I had considered briefly making the side trip up Rooster Comb as I neared the end of the hike.

“Chickened” out (hah) at about 5:30, and decided to hustle out the last two miles

Seeing the end in sight, and a nice pine-soft trail, I decided (as I told myself I wouldn’t before the hike, but deep down I was thinking I’d do it anyway), I decided to skip the side hike up to Rooster Comb and it’s nice view (now I have an excuse to do the Range again) and hustle back to the Rooster Comb trailhead on Rt. 73 where I started way back when. The trail was nice and had some nice surprises near the end:

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Stopped to admire the beaver dam and turn on the phone to let Mrs. Wintercow know I was alive and made it out around 6pm.  Made the complete loop in the 14.5 hour range. I don’t have the particular specs on the particular path that I took, but the vertical is somewhere in the 9,000 feet range and the mileage probably in the 27 mile range (I promise to go calculate it soon!). It was a bit disappointing that the going at the start and middle was particularly slow, due to the high water brook crossing(s) and plentiful mud and water on trail on the way in, but I got to spend a lot of time up on the ridge, soak in the views and just go dead-brained all day long. I can’t describe that feeling, but imagine watching a fabulous movie at the same time while playing a sport you love, with all of the attendant concentration, and your mind is nowhere bad – focusing on the next step, being keenly aware of the smells of the air, sounds of the streams, and extreme quiet. No thoughts of bosses, classes, bills, worries, health, etc. nothing. I’d like to see what my time would be were I trying to move quickly and if the conditions were better. Now, no way I’m doing the 6 hour GRT run that the ultra folks do, but my guess is that a couple hours is reasonable to expect next time I go, and maybe more if I decide not to do the full loop from the Rooster Comb trailhead. Not that it matters. As a comparison, the first long trek I did was the entire Dix Range, when I was more or less out of climbing and running shape, and in perfect conditions it took me a dozen hours while starting right at the base of Macomb.

Per my usual routine, I discretely changed out of my hiking gear and cleaned up a bit in the parking lot (some other times I head out to HPIC or to a local hostel for a shower), and gladly made my way down to one of my favorite post-hike traditions – to the Stewarts Shop in Schroon Lake. After hikes like this I am typically really starving – but not so much today. The routine is usually a giant bottle of seltzer, two cheeseburgers and a pint of ice cream. The ice cream was a no go on this day, but it was a great bite with a nice view of the lake too.

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Was back on the road by 7:30, and miraculously did not have to stop and was home in the shower by 11:30 – which was ultimately the goal for the day.

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I was hoping that this sort of a walk would “get the devil” out of me, but here I am a couple of months since the hike and am dreaming of doing it again – even as a huge long list of other places to go looms and remains in my head. Part of the reason is that the entire Range and all the High Peaks just feels like home. The other part is that the more time you spend in these hills the better you know every nook, cranny and view to be had … yet despite that you feel like you know none of it.

So much more to say of course … until then, Hap

Elk Lake to Pinnacle Ridge and Haystack

Long day yesterday – didn’t realize how much the swampy trails would slow me down, probably should have brought a kayak instead of hiking boots,

In any case, started early from Elk Lake. Trail before Boreas Ridge is in decent condition but from thereon out there was rarely a dry spot to be seen for the day. The Elk Lake trail doesn’t provide one with any views of Elk Lake unless you are trespassing, so the views will have to come from on high. After 5 miles you head to your right into Pinnacle Ridge (Blake-Colvin Range). It’s a shortish climb up to the top of the range. Once on top, you’ll be sure to go the extra 0.2 miles to the Pinnacle and for your first good views of the day (the Dixes and Elk Lake). Actually, definitely do that because of you want a hike that maximizes views per mile, this is not it, at last not until the end. About the only wildlife I saw on this day, much less heard (it was quiet in the HP) was the grouse I scared as I emerged onto the Pinnacle.

In any case, once off of the Pinnacle, traverse the range northward for about 3 miles going over a series of ups and downs – and on this day they were pretty soft (I was expecting them to be bone dry), heading over such famous peaks as “Unnamed peak at 3700 feet.” Don’t let the lack of 46er peaks along the traverse fool you – those ups and downs were more challenging than many of the 46s. Be sure to take advantage of the few lookout spots up there, as the views are nice and when you get the chance to look West, you have an awesome site of a sheer drop down to Upper Ausable Lake and the Great Range looming.

Once to Blake, continued over to the col between Colvin and Blake, a pretty wet and rugged drop, (ran into a nice guy who was doing Colvin, Blake, Nippletop and Dial and who graciously offered me a ride from St. Huberts back to Elk Lake should I choose to bail on my journey).

In any event, dropped left off onto the Carry Trail – I have read that it is very steep and tough, but it was actually pretty decent going outside of a few spots that the trail is washed out in and it is hard to find markers. Made much better time coming down to Upper Ausable Lake than I had planned. Great photos to be had over the bridge crossing the brook that connects the lakes. Walk over to Warden’s Camp from here is on gravel road and very easy going, and fun, though I am always am uncomfortable hiking on this private land. Once to Warden’s camp you are back down at low elevation and the only ways out are to hike up and over Sawteeth back to St. Huberts, retrace your steps and over Colvin out to St. Huberts, or make your way up into the Great Range. The “easist” option you have is hiking up over Bartlett Ridge, itself a really good climb, and then back down into Panther Gorge to connect to the Elk Lake trail.

On this day my target was Haystack. I had initially wanted to add Marcy, but the Elk Lake trails and other approaches were so muddy that it slowed my times down way more than I wanted, so adding Marcy (and Skylight, etc.) will have to come on another day. In any case, the first half of the walk up to Bartlett Ridge is pleasant, allowing options to head over to other parts of the range. I chose to head straight up the Ridge, which is a pretty steady climb for the last mile before it drops you at the base of the Southern approach to Haystack. Again, not too many views along this trail, and most of the day was spent shaded until this point. Got here around 12:30, and since I wanted to be out by dark without worrying about slipping on the mucky trails on the way out (i.e. take my time picking through the rocks and logs), I hurried up Haystack and was on top a little after 1. The guidebooks say this is the steepest climb in the ADKs. I don’t know about that. It was steep, for sure, but if I had not read that note I would not have remembered the climb as being any more memorable as many others. In any case, Haystack was gorgeous on this day – slight breeze, a strange gray-blue hazy sky all around, very quiet with the exception of some large flying insects all around. A few hikers who had come in on Phelps trail to do March, Gray and Skylight had also made their way up there descending Skylight into Panther Gorge and back up to Haystack (very tough!). I could only stay a bit and descended the same way I came.

Back down to the trail intersection with Bartlett Ridge trail, I headed right to the steep drop into Panther Gorge. Pumped two liters of water down in Panther Brook, which like all of the others was raging, and had a long 9-mile trek out on the Elk Lake – Marcy trail. I usually enjoy these long approach trails as they allow you to move fast and reflect on the day. Not today. It was slop most of the way with the exception of a couple of mile between Panther Gorge and the intersection with Pinnacle, and it also contained a very impressive new collection of bog bridges that were built with enormous lumber (3 x 8s I think they were). There had to be over a half-mile of them. It felt kind of random to have them there, about half the trail could have used them if we really were worried about preserving the integrity of the trail. It’s amazing there is such a long trail cut through this very clearly swamp area.

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In any case, it took a heck of a lot longer than I wanted to take on the way out. If it were dry a little around 2.25 hours would have been a nice pace, but it took me 3.25 today.

It was a fun day as always though the muddy track did get in my head. I was bombarded by mosquitos at the end of the day. You might consider this some kind of mini-range traverse – my back of the envelope numbers suggest it was about 26 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical. It includes two full ascents and lots of ups and down, with the last bit of up and down coming as you go over the Boreas Range on the Elk Lake trail on your way out. The best part of the hike is the varied scenery you get over an exposed peak, a secluded range, a beautiful lake, etc.) and of course this is one of the hikes you can do even on crowded weekends and have relative solitude. Be prepared when you go, and be committed, because it’s tough to bail on it unlike other longer treks you may put together in the peaks.

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