Tirrell Mountain from Tirrell Pond

The following morning we took the road-walk back out of town to the trailhead and went up the side of Long Lake itself. We had hoped to climb Blueberry Mountain but I was having some foot problems, and with regret we decided against it. We pushed on, away from the lake, up by Shattuck Clearing and the lean-tos beyond, and stealth-camped on the Cold River, a lovely spot. The night was incredibly dark (and cool) and there were a multitude of stars, with no light pollution in evidence. The seeing, astronomically speaking, was almost as good as I recall in places like the high desert of Joshua Tree National Park, though (naturally) without that southern flair that exposes portions of the sky not seen in the NE.

Our final night was at Duck Hole, and it was here that disaster (or what would have been disaster had it happened earlier in the trip) struck. Duck Hole’s a highly photogenic spot, notable for unusual views of the High Peaks, but along with those peaks come the human acclimated bears for which the region is notorious. We had throughout been using Ursack TKO bags for food storage, supposedly highly bear-resistant and equivalent to a canister. We admired the views, poked around, had eaten dinner and turned in. At about 10:30 PM I was awoken by David—“a bear is attacking the bags,” said he. And indeed it was—we could hear it, but not see it. Once the noise had subsided, we walked down to the area where his bag was, mine nearby. His had been gutted and all the contents eaten. Mine was untouched, so I moved it downwind of the privy in the hopes that it would not be scented. Vain hope indeed.

Throughout that night, each time I awoke I heard much noise through the underbrush. Some seemed to be David, most the bear. I did not feel too disquieted—it was now a well-fed critter and my hammock was free of edibles or anything that smelt of them, and I was in my night gear, which had not been exposed to food. When I awoke in the cold pre-dawn at 5:30 AM, I got up, loudly and profanely scolded the noisy beast then downhill of me (maybe it was appalled at my language, because after hanging around most of the night, it invisibly skulked away). My bag had also been demolished, with various unlikely items eaten (can a bear really digest Ezbit tablets and shampoo)?

The biggest issue was really the fate of the bear itself. With such intrusive habits (the usual clanging of metal etc., had no effect on it) it is almost certain to be shot, if not during the bear season, by the DEC itself, and since each successful raid encourages it further, this event would not be long in coming. We had done what we could and should have, though the system we had trusted had failed with the disintegration of the Kevlar stitching. This was clearly a bear with expertise, perhaps even with long experience of this specific method of protection. The manufacturers themselves are examining the failed bag and indeed informed me that they have recently redesigned in order to remove the bottom seam—I will reserve judgment until I have seen the improved bag, but the fact remains that this one should not have failed.

No tea or coffee at breakfast (nor food) but no big deal—I wasn’t actually that hungry. We cleared up the mess and moved on out. Because we had no lunch we bypassed Wanika Falls, which can easily be visited from Lake Placid by day-hike in any case, and went straight for the trailhead. The car was still there and in good shape. After a few celebratory photos we headed into Lake Placid for a late snack, then back down south to Upper Benson and thence to our homes.

Despite people and bears (I prefer bears) it had been an immensely worthwhile trip. On a personal note, I turned fifty this June, subsequent to some health problems in the months preceding, and to undertake a trip like this successfully meant a great deal to me. I dropped about twenty pounds between the hike and a previous kayak tour (long may it stay off) but beyond such considerations, it was good to know that I still had it in me, even with blisters, to accomplish this journey. Next year, who knows what trail will beckon?

Edward Ripley-Duggan, erd@wilsey.net

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Split glacial erratic, Cold River