Return to the Boreas Ponds

I made a solemn vow last year that I would return to this peaceful hideaway one day.

And I did.  And it almost killed me.

Let me explain.

Over the weekend, I drove back up to the Boreas Ponds, the recently-released private acreage in the Adirondacks.  I’m at least ten miles away from any ounce of civilization.  It’s just me, my Nikon Df, my Irix 15mm f/2.4 super-ultra-wide rectilinear lens, my programmed Vello intervalometer shutter control, my Vanguard tripod.  Yeah, I’m roughing it.

Last October’s excursion to the Boreas Ponds was my first true attempt at hiking.  And although the results were tremendously pleasing – I got some great photos out of the adventure – my body wasn’t ready for such a long hiking distance.  I may have sustained a broken foot before my hike, but I have a feeling that I really ripped my bones to bits on that long hike in and out of the woods.

And I promised myself that if I did return, I would make damn sure that I was more prepared.  Decent, well-constructed hiking boots rather than sneakers.  Sustainable trail mix and proteins, rather than a bag of candy.  Several liters of bottled water – and I mean several liters.  A fully charged cell phone, along with fully-charged camera batteries and a fully-charged battery-fueled cell phone charger.  Look, kids, I gotta be prepared for anything.  Fully-charged prepared, if you know what I mean.

And here I am.

Ten miles from civilization.  The sounds of rustling breezes through the tree branches.  The occasional bird chirps and tweets.  The slow, soft splash of tiny ripples against a glass-like pond.


The journey to the Boreas Ponds is not an easy one, especially if you’re not a “46er” – someone who has reached the peaks of all of the Adirondack Mountains’ High Peaks.  That being said, you can see many of the High Peaks from the dam area at the Boreas Ponds.

You just have to get there.

And it all starts with a hidden little roadway called Gulf  Brook Road.

Yeah, the last time I saw a road sign that insignificant, it was followed by a cop asking why I didn’t see the speed limit sign as I entered his little one-stop-light town.

Okay, three miles to drive on Gulf Brook Road to the parking lot.  No turning back now.

Once I’ve parked at the lot, it’s now time to walk through a car-locked gate and begin my hike.  A good three hour hike.

And for those of you who were wondering, “Chuck, for Christ’s sakes, you just had surgery on your left foot, are you trying to break it again??”  To you, I say, “These L.L. Bean hiking boots have kept my feet nice and stable, everything’s fine.”

I kept walking.  And when the walk became too overbearing, I would find a resting rock and rest for about ten minutes.  One resting rock even had some wild blackberries – very tasty and worth noshing on.

Yes, that’s a picture of blackberries, taken with my BlackBerry.  Yeah, I know, if I had brought an iPhone, I probably would have taken pictures of apples.  😀

Two hours into my hike, I reached the LaBier Flow.  This is the point where you know you’re close to the Boreas Ponds.

It’s at this point that I discover – to my chagrin – the official bird of the Adirondacks.

That would be the black fly. Before long, I had several of these little monsters chewing on my arms and hands.  Shooing them away did no good.

Thankfully, I had some Off! bug spray in my bag.  A few squirts, and …

They’re not going anywhere.  In fact, more of the black flies are coming in for a taste.

What the hell?

Well, I’ll just have to deal with it.

One more hour of hiking… and…

I made it.

Here I am.

The Boreas Ponds and its view of the High Peaks.

Boreas Ponds Panorama. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

The plan is to combine several of my previous photographing attempts into one complete construct.  Last year, I caught my first Milky Way capture in The Heavens Above, The Forest Below.  Now, let’s see if I can capture that Milky Way over the peaceful Boreas Ponds.

And if I’m truly blessed, and if all the stars are aligned – no pun intended – I hope to get that Milky Way shot in conjunction with some morning sun rays striking the Adirondack High Peaks.

Okay, that’s asking a lot, Miller.  What next, you going to go to the plate and hit a seven-run homer?

Okay.  It’s getting dark.  Really dark.

I’ve got the intervalometer firing – 25-second exposures in the dark, dark sky.

Boreas Ponds 2. Nikon Df camera, Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. Photo (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.

Nightfall.  The Nikon Df is doing its job.  And I’m resting on the ground, contemplating my life.

Dang, it’s getting cold.

Really cold.

And it’s too dark to walk back to the parking lot from here.  Not without some sort of head lamp.  Which I forgot to pack.  Dumb Chuck.

Well, I’ll crawl into my sleeping bag and – wait, did you see me pack a sleeping bag at any point in this trip?

Me neither.

That’s right, I’m in the darkness, in freezing cold weather, and I have no sleeping bag.

Jesus Christ, Chuck, are you TRYING to kill yourself in new and exotic ways?

It’s cold.  Very cold.  And as I try to sleep it off – laying on the dark, rocky ground, using my camera bag for an ersatz pillow, listening to the click-click-click of the camera…

My brain is starting to scramble.  The cold isn’t helping.  And every time I look at my watch, it seems like time is slowing down.

This is not good.  I can’t sleep.  And now my stomach is convulsing.

Damn it, Chuck, you just HAD to go back up here, didn’t you?  You stupid, stupid man.  Stupid.  Oh by the way, you’re stupid, too.

Here I am upon this beautiful Earth.  Me.  This wretched, luckless soul.

Wait a second.  I can’t go down this road again.  Not this time.  Tonight, I don’t want to focus on my failures and shortcomings and minisculations.

No.  Not tonight.

No.  I’ve been on this planet for nearly five and a half decades now.  In all that time… I must have completed some goodness.

And if I can counterbalance the cold and the convulsions I’m going through now … maybe I can get through the night.

Think hard, Chuck.  And before the sun rises today, remind yourself of ten acts of kindness, of goodness, of positiveness.

Think of those moments where things went right.  The evening sky is your canvas.  Gaze upon it and see your future.

  • “No.  You’ve had too much to drink.  I’ll drive you home.  You can leave your car here in the bar.  Tomorrow call me and I’ll pick you up and you can retrieve your car from the bar’s parking lot.  Don’t tell me you live out of the way.  No, it’s not an inconvenience for me.  Hop in.  You’re safe now.”
  • “Yes sir, I did find that recording in the collection of old 78’s.  Yes sir, I found the acetate recording your wife and friends made for you on Valentine’s Day.  I’m visiting West Virginia in a few weeks, I’ll bring the acetate with me.  It belongs to your family, and I’m glad to get it back to you.”
  • “Hello – Grand Rapids Red Cross?  You don’t know me, but I acquired an old World War I camera that may have been owned by the founder of your local Red Cross chapter.  I checked the engravings on the camera, it’s definitely his.  I would like it to return home to your organization, it’s really a part of your history.  Please give me your mailing address and I’ll ship it first thing tomorrow.”
  • “You’re going to be all right, miss.  Don’t move, you may have some broken bones from when the car hit you.  Don’t worry, the ambulance and fire trucks are on their way.  Everything will be fine.”
  • “Yes, I’ll help you with the trivia charity event.  It’s my pleasure.  We’ll all have a good time.  And I won’t let you down.”
  • “There it is, Grandma Betty… your stone is finally engraved.  For all that you did for me … I kept my promise for you.”
  • “I’m sorry it took so long, Allan… but I made sure that your marker was complete.  That’s the most important thing of all.  Rest in peace, baby brother.”
  • “Wait … you mean we beat Albany Academy in a battle of brains?  On television??  Us???  The school nobody gave two hoots about just beat one of the top high schools in the Capital District, and it wasn’t even close?!?”

Six o’clock.  I’ve had no sleep whatsoever.  But I see daylight.  I made it through the night.

I check the camera.  And it’s only then that I realize…

My lens is coated in condensation.

If you heard a loud scream from the Adirondack Mountains, it came from me.  Stupid Chuck didn’t wipe off the lens in the middle of the night, when he’s trying to shoot between two bodies of water … and now I’ve got a goopy, drippy lens that meant that every shot I took of the night sky was now filtered through a watery mask.  Utterly and totally useless.

Damn it.

All right, no crying over spilled milky ways.  Everybody fails at least once in their lives.

Time to go back to the parking lot.  It’s just a three-hour hike back.

I make it back to the LaBier Flow … and I can’t take another step.

I know I’ve got two hours left to hike, but my body is in shutdown mode.  My legs are on strike, I’ve already vomited at least three times in the night…

And I can’t move.

And just when all hope was gone …

I heard something.

Something I never expected.

It was a Ford truck, roaring along the road.

Do whatever it takes, Miller.  Flag them down.

They stopped.

I explained my predicament.

The passenger looked at the driver.

“If you can put your gear in the back of our truck, and if you don’t mind sitting in the middle, we can take you back to the parking lot.  We’re not supposed to, but … we can do it.”

The two men were part of Americorps, and they were members of a group who are involved with upgrading and maintaining the trails on the Boreas Ponds roads.  In fact, their assignment for today was to build ADA-specific outhouses, as the Ponds prepares for more visitors and traffic.

And in the ten minutes it took them to get me back to the parking lot, they both lectured me on the mistakes I made last night – and, in return, complimented me on being ingenious enough to survive the night without panicking.

“Never wear cotton when you hike,” one of them said to me.  “Cotton absorbs cold water, and it will make you colder.”

“And that Off! bug spray won’t work out here,” the other one said.  “You need something with DEET in it.  Or those black flies will have you for supper.”

“You did pack water and snacks, right?”

“Yes i did.”

“Good.  You have no idea how many people we’ve seen who don’t even pack that much.  Maybe you’re not ready to be a 46er, but at least you know what it means to achieve that goal and the dedication it involves.”

Back to the parking lot.  I thanked the Americorps volunteers profusely, and let them get back to their duties.  And if their boss reads this blog at any time, let me say this – please do not punish or reprimand these men.  They did a good deed today.

And I’ve never been so happy to see my Chevy in my life.

Let’s go home.

It was an adventure, to be sure.  And I did the best I could with what I had, for sure.

But next time …

If I want to get night shots of the Milky Way…

I’ll try the Corinth Reservoir instead.  That’s only a quarter of a mile of a hike.

But despite all this …

I did get back to the Boreas Ponds.  I did return after my surgery for my broken foot.

I challenged myself … and then some.

And I made it through.


Yeah, I made it through.