We Almost Lost Pavan on Giant Mountain

The State University of New York (SUNY) IT professionals hold an annual conference called the SUNY Technology Conference (STC).  For the past several years, it has been hosted in Lake Placid, NY in the Adirondacks. I have been blessed to be able to attend this conference year after year.  In 2014. I hiked my first High Peak ever at the conference. Since then, I have made it a tradition to tackle one or more peaks before the conference kicks off. This usually means waking up early on the travel day, driving 6+ hours to reach the trailhead, hike and have just enough time to attend the evening reception and “networking” hours.

Others are a bit out of shape, they are IT professionals after all.

Every year, I send an e-mail around to attendees within my office to see if anyone would like to join me on my treks.  Every year, there is a group of 3 or 4 people that raise there hand.  Most are in decent shape and can reach the peaks with some effort. Others are a bit out of shape, they are IT professionals after all.  We usually have one in the group that overestimates their physical prowess and underestimates the difficulty of an “Adirondack mile”. This year was no exception.

10 Essentials E-mail

Giant Mountain would be the first High Peak for Pavan and second for Paul, although the last time he hiked a High Peak was several years ago in Boy Scouts.  Joe and Jon have been regulars on my annual STC treks. I made sure that Pavan and Paul knew what they were getting into and that some training was necessary.  Paul was hitting the stairs at lunch and Pavan was upping his walking miles.  A couple of weeks before our hike, I sent out an e-mail (10 Essentials e-mail) to the group describing the hike, listing the ten essentials and detailing some important points about clothing, water, nutrition and logistics.  I was warned that Pavan was known to wear inadequate footwear.  I made sure he understood the requirements and he ran a few trailrunner options past me.  Everyone was set for gear and I was psyched.

The day before the trek, I had the following text exchange with Pavan:

        Pavan: My friend told me that the oxygen content at elevation is low and I might have trouble breathing.
        Me: I do not think you will have a problem breathing.  You may be breathing heavy due to exertion, but the elevation should not be an issue.  We will play it by ear. Are you psyched?
        Pavan: Sounds good mike. Yeah I am excited!

Pavan definitely did not know what to expect. I had hoped this exchange was not foreshadowing things to come.

The trek started early Monday morning in Buffalo.  I planned to pick up Pavan and Paul at Buffalo State College at 5:45am and Joe and Jon near the airport at 6:00am with a goal to be at the trailhead by 1pm.  Of course, one of my first pickups was about 10 minutes late.  He will remain nameless.  We stopped about midway for a bathroom break and some Starbucks.  Being a Tim Horton’s fan, I have not had Starbucks in quite some time.  Their robust roast really hit my taste buds.

Our next stop was lunch somewhere before we reached the trailhead.  With limited options and limited data service, we picked one place that was closed and then stumbled on The Black Bear Restaurant in Pottersville, NY.  It was a quaint, local establishment with good home cooking.  After a bacon burger (no bun) and a salad, I was ready.  The others in the group enjoyed their meals, ranging from a french dip to a veggie pizza.

I secretly hoped the rest of the group could make it.

We arrived at the trailhead just after 1pm. The plan was to hike the Ridge Trail starting at Chapel Pond, go past the Washbowl to the Roaring Brook Trial to the summit of Giant.  We then would take the East Trail to summit Rocky Peak Ridge and then return down the Roaring Brook Trail until we met the junction to the Ridge Trail.  If everyone in the party was still feeling good, we would continue down the Roaring Brook Trail to the south side of the Washbowl before meeting the Ridge Trail.  This would add about 1 mile to the trek, but would provide us with some different scenery.  Personally, I prefer to do a loop and secretly hoped the rest of the group could make it.

With hot and humid weather, thunderstorms were also in the area

The weather for the day was predicted to be HOT with a high near 86 degrees.  With hot and humid weather, thunderstorms were also in the area and expected to build up as the day went on.  We had a few rain drops at the trailhead, but it quickly passed.  I would be keeping a close eye on the sky and radar when I had service.  The last thing I wanted is to be on a wet mountain with lightning with novice hikers (or experienced hikers).

Gearing Up.

The team geared up.  Pavan started taking off his shorts and putting on jeans.  Mind you, it was around 85 degrees out.  His explanation was that he did not want to get bit by ticks.  We had mistakenly freaked him out on the ride up talking about ticks and lyme disease.  I sternly recommended that he not wear jeans because of the heat and lack of maneuverability.  Paul commented that while it would provide some protection, the ticks could still crawl up your pant leg.  I offered Pavan my favorite hiking pants, the light kind with zippers to convert them into shorts.  I knew he would be too hot.  Luckily, he accepted this compromise as Joe was wearing jeans as well.  However, I knew Joe had been up on the peaks before and has very low tolerances for cold.  Joe is the type of guy that would go up the mountain bear foot or in flip flops and jeans given the option and be fine.

The hike begins.
The elevation hits you immediately.

We bagan our journey.  We signed the trail register, something everyone should do for their own safety.  In addition, the trip leader should also let a contact back home know the trip itinerary and group members with phone numbers just in case something happens. I also put a note on my car dash with the same information.  You never know!  As expected, there was no warm up to Giant.  Most ADK Peaks have 2 or more miles of gradual elevation until you hit the base of the mountain, Giant is the exception.  It is a shorter trail, that begins with elevation.  We were met with several switchbacks another unusual ADK feature, most trails are pretty straight up.

Spectacular view of Chapel Pond.

Moving through the switchbacks and quite a bit of elevation gain, we arrived at the first overlook.  It provided a spectacular view of Chapel Pond below and mountains part of the Great Range.  Everyone in the group was in high spirits and doing well.  Paul got a bit winded on the initial elevation, but seemed to get his second wind.  Pavan was hanging with the group and was amazed by the scenery, a smile from ear to ear.

Bridge crossing at the Washbowl.

The next major landmark we came to was the Washbowl.  We snapped a few pictures as we crossed the double log bridge.  We questioned if it was the Washbowl since we were making pretty good time.  We saw a woman filling up a bladder in the pond; there must be some camping areas near.  This would be a beautiful place to camp; I wonder if there are any trout in the pond.

Rock scramble!

We pressed on.  Our pace began to slow, but we were moving.  I made a point to stop several times to make sure people grabbed food and drank water.  In the heat, you do not realize how many fluids you are losing. You do not feel like eating, yet you are still burning a ton of calories.

Overlook of the Washbowl.

 

Over Bump to the right, Around bump to the left.

We needed to boogie if we were going to summit and make it down.

The overlooks we came across continued to impress.  Then, we came across a sign that said “Over bump, Around bump”.  We chose to go around the bump.  Not sure what over the bump would have entailed.  Next time!  At this point, I was able to get cell reception and as predicted the thunderstorms were building up.  The High Peaks pushed them north and south of us.  We were in a clear pocket, although we heard a few rumbles in the distance.  Based on the radar, it looked like there was a north-south system that was going to hit us around 8:00p.  We needed to boogie if we were going to summit and make it down.

Picture from the summit.

Through some subtle psychological and some more forceful encouragement we made the summit.

Through some subtle psychological and some more forceful encouragement we made the summit.  We could see the weather to the north that was already past us.  It rained for about 3 minutes on the summit and then cleared up.  We enjoyed the views, refueled and, of course, had our traditional toast.  This trip was a shot of Maker’s Mark.  Based on our pace and the eminent weather, I had decided to abort bagging Rocky Peak Ridge.  I did offer the group the option of taking the longer loop and that we would make a game-time decision when we arrived at the trail junction.

Traditional toast on Giant Mountain’s summit

The group headed down the mountain.  Pavan was extremely cautious as he made his way down.  I could tell he was nervous, taking very careful steps and dropping to all-fours on pitches that we all bounded over.  I did not say anything about the pace at this point, I wanted him to feel comfortable and knew it would eventually get easier.  We were still OK on time.  I was not sure if Pavan was genuinely nervous or was being extra cautious after I mentioned that 80% of injuries on mountains happen on the decent. After talking with Pavan after the hike, he told me he is generally an overly cautious person and did not want to risk an injury, being a single guy with no family in the States.

Rock scramble on decent.

Paul, Jon and Joe were up ahead.  I stayed back with Pavan, gently encouraging him to pick of the pace.  Upon arriving at the trail junction to the Roaring Brook Trail, Paul immediately said he wanted to take the extra loop.  The rest of the group agreed and calculating our pace, adding the extra mile would really put us close to the weather moving in and darkness.  I agreed as I also would like to see a different trail.

Brutally slow.

The group continued down.  To put our pace into perspective, we came to ladder steps.  It was not that steep and would normally take 10 seconds to descend.  I reviewed my GoPro footage and we spent nearly two minutes on these steps.  Brutally slow.

Cool twisted tree.

Not long after the trail junction, I noticed Pavan struggling.  He was getting agitated by the flies swatting them obnoxiously and yelling “Fucking flies, fuck, fuck, fuck…”  At one point, he sat down and nearly fell over.  I knew he was exhausted and I suspected very “hangry”.  I forced him to eat a couple of bars and Paul gave him a sugary fruit rope.

I made the comment that if you keep moving, the flies will not bother you as much, hoping to keep the party moving.  Pavan proceeded to sprint down the mountain.  I quickly yelled for him to stop and knew something else was wrong.  I asked Pavan “How many times have you peed?”  He replied saying he hadn’t.  I peed 3-4 times at this point, I knew he was dehydrated and possibly in trouble.  I made him drink his remaining water bottle and then made him another bottle mixed with electrolytes.  The combination of food and water seemed to perk Pavan up.  He got his legs back and actually stayed with the front of the group.

Small waterfall at Roaring Brook.

The Roaring Brook trail was different from the trail up Giant.  It was in a dense, very moist forest.  We arrived at the Roaring Brook which provided us with a nice small waterfall.  After taking pictures, the trail started to gain elevation back to the Washbowl.  This time Paul screeched to a halt.  He was walking up the incline like a mountaineer climbing Everest, slowly putting one foot in front of the other and stopping for breath every three or four steps.  Paul needed some perking up and encouragement.  I had seen him eating regularly and even saw him pee a few times.  I did not think he was in a state like Pavan, but knew he was spent physically.  We got some sugary food into him and some electrolytes.  He pressed on and made it past the elevation.

Deer in front of Washbowl cliffs.

The trail took us past some steep cliffs.  I assumed them to be the Washbowl cliffs below the Nubble.  We encountered a deer drinking from one of the pools at the base of the cliffs and arrived back at the Washbowl.  The group took some pictures.  This time we noticed a nice camp fire setup across the pond with bench seating with the fire against a large boulder.  We also found a note written on birch bark from the NYSDEC warning a camper that they were camping too close to the pond.  Remember you need to be 150′ or more away from a water source.

Camp 150′ from a water source.

Put that goddamn phone in your pocket

Dusk was setting in after the Washbowl.  Our pace was slow and I was nervous about getting stuck in the rain and dark.  Pavan kept pulling out his phone for reasons unknown to me at the time.  I asked him nicely to put the phone away and to focus on making progress down the mountain.  After repeating this 3 times, I finally told him “Put that goddamn phone in your pocket and concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other down the mountain”  Needless to say, I was a bit frustrated.

Great place for a camp fire.

Joe and Jon were keeping us on the trail, but in the beginnings of dusk, they were being cautious. At one point, they stopped to double check with me.  Pavan pulled out his phone and said his map shows we are right on track.  My response to this is not something I want to repeat here, mixed in with a few expletives. Pavan was being helpful, little did he know I had the map on my watch this whole time. I think we were all a bit tired and wanted to beat the rain.

It began to sprinkle with about .25 miles left, but the canopy kept us mostly dry.  As we were signing out, it began to really rain and was pouring as we arrived at the car.  We just made it out even with our glacial pace. We finally made it to the trailhead after about 7.5 hours of hiking.

Hikes like this can really test out a person.  I give both Paul and Pavan credit.  They were utterly exhausted at points, but never once complained.  They pressed on and can say they climbed a High Peak.  My guide and first aid skills were tested throughout the day.  I was grateful that my first aid training helped me identify the conditions we encountered and assisted me in addressing the situations with Paul and Pavan. I was also proud to see the smiles on everyone’s face on the summit and when we safely arrived back at the car.  Even though we ran into some rough spots, both Pavan and Paul said they would love to do another High Peak someday (but with some more training before hand).

Trip Recap

Lessons Learned:

An Adirondack Mile can spell disaster for the unprepared.

I have revised my lessons learned list after talking with friends, getting feedback from a couple of forums and thinking about what I could have done to make the experience better for all.

  1. I wish I had monitored my group’s actual calorie and water intake.  I made an effort to stop and tell people to eat and drink.  However, I really never verified they were listening.  New hikers do not know how to listen to their bodies and detect calorie or water needs before it is too late.
  2. Typically when the forecast is for high temps it is advisable to get on the trail as early as possible to beat the heat so much of the strenuous climb done while it’s still relatively cool in the morning. This also helps dodge afternoon thunderstorms. Starting at 1:00 p.m. was not a great idea in that heat. We probably should been well into our descent if not finished by 1:00 p.m. Instead we were climbing right into the heat of the afternoon.
  3. One celebratory shot probably was not a great idea on a hot day, maybe we should have saved it for when we made it back to the trailhead.
  4. I should have never suggested exploring the Roaring Brook Trail. At the junction, I should have asked “Who wants to climb another 500 feet?”, I’m sure my crew would not have be so eager to take the detour via Roaring Brook Trail.  Asking them to do less than a mile was a bit inaccurate without explaining the amount of  elevation.
  5. Although we had a water purifier and had extra water, one suggestion was to purify and keep bottles topped off. You never know when you will need water, fast.
  6. I had a mismatch between the participants and the event.  There are several other treks in the Adirondacks that would have provided great scenery and been more appropriate for the skills of the group.

Best Advice Received: When you see someone is clearly struggling, you have to (in increasing order): reduce the pace, lighten their load, downsize the itinerary, forego the objective, or simply turn back immediately (whatever it takes to ensure their safety and well-being). The mountain will wait.

Book Recommendation:

Favorite Gear Used:

  • Suunto Ambit3 Peak GPS Watch – I did a ton of research about 2 years ago on the best GPS watch for my activities.  I use my Suunto everyday and love it.  I really like their online software, Movescount.  The navigation and battery life of the watch are excellent. For this hike, it was invaluable to understand the elevation profile ahead of us, amount of hike left and average pace.  I am keeping my eye on their new Suunto 9 watch which seems to have the same features, battery life and upgraded screens.  Battery life was really my biggest deciding factor.  My Ambit3 has been rock solid and hope to use it for several years to come.

Gear They Wished They Brought:

  • Snickers bars or some other source of fast sugar – although I am keto and would not use these myself unless in dire need, I wished I has a quick source of sugar for my hiking mates that needed a quick pick-me-up.

Favorite Meal or Snack:

Maps, Routes and GPS Information

Route Statistics: 7.58 miles, 3688′ elevation

 

Caltopo Map: https://caltopo.com/m/JUS3

1 thought on “We Almost Lost Pavan on Giant Mountain”

  1. Excellent write-up and Summary Mike!
    Thanks for all of your expertise and guidance on this trek.

    It was a blast!
    -Jon

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