Friday, December 21, 2012

Trip Report: Kaaterskill High Peak Airplane Crash Sites FAILED ATTEMPT 12/15/12 – 12/19/12 Part 1

Well, those of you who have been following my posts know that lately on some of my trips I have been going out in search of airplane crash sites in the woods. The reason for that is not that I have any specific interest in airplanes, but rather that I find it a good test of skills, both navigational and of general woodsmanship. The airplanes crashed without regard for terrain, available resources and ease of access. Taking the crash sites as they are forces you to encounter nature on her terms, and allows you to practice skills in a situation where they actually matter.

So far I have taken you along a few successful trips. Unfortunately, my last one was a complete and total failure. I figured I would share it with you as well so you can see my mistakes.

Usually every year I get a few vacation days left over before the year ends, and I like to take them to go on a slightly longer trip. I prefer winter trips because they offer a bigger challenge. If I am going to spend all of my vacation days, I want to get the biggest use of them. I like to pull out the snowshoes and crampons and go stomp around in the snow.

Unfortunately, this year we got hit with a heat wave here in the northeast. All of the snow melted, and we had been having unseasonably warm weather for the past few weeks. So, I had to put away my crampons and snowshoes for this trip and plan out a less winter oriented trip. I settled on doing a trip I had planned out for next year – the search for the Kaaterskill High Peak airplane crash sites. I was planning on doing the trip next year in better weather because when searching for airplanes, I want to avoid snow cover. It doesn’t make much sense to search for something that is buried in snow. However, since all the snow had melted this year, and the weather was warm, I decided to try to squeeze this trip in before the snow came again.

I gave myself five days to complete the trip. Here was the plan:


I would start out at about 500ft in elevation. I would then climb up the mountain using the existing trails to about 2000ft in elevation. There I would take a small detour to Poet’s Ledge (a nice view point). Then I would continue following the trail on that elevation. At one point the trail will turn south towards the mountain. I would follow it to about 2900ft. At that point I would start out in a westerly direction until I reached the bottom of Round Top Mountain. From there I would use the ridge to bushwhack up Round Top Mountain. Then I would follow the ridge to Kaaterskill High Peak Mountain at 3655ft. From there I would descend on the first crash site. Once I find it, I would take a bearing and go to the second crash site. From there I would descend to the trail again and follow it back down the mountain.

So I packed my winter gear (for this region) along with five days of food and set out. Now, I write this part in case anyone wishes to take the same route. I hope this makes it a bit easier. I started at the parking area on Route 23A. From there the map shows that you follow along Route 23A until you reach a bridge that connects you to Malden Ave, which you then follow to the trail itself. Here is an interesting sign about this area:


I followed Route 23A to the bridge. To my surprise however, there was no Malden Ave intersection at this point. There was just a dead end. I asked a parked police officer about it, but she didn’t know about any Malden Ave in this area. After some looking around I decided to go through the closed off area along the river. The streets might not make any sense, but the river was still the river. After a few minutes of walking, I figured out what had happened. I was in fact on Malden Ave, just an abandoned section of the street that had been closed off. Through the leafs, you could see remnants of the road.


Along the street there were some remnants of what looked like the foundations of old buildings. I’m not sure about what happened to the area or why this section of the street was closed off and abandoned, but I was glad to be going in the right direction.


After a while the closed off section ended, and the proper street began. Soon after I reached the actual trail and started up the mountain.


The going was slow. The elevation change was rapid, and there was a lot of ice everywhere. The temperature was slightly below 32F (0C), which froze all of the water that had accumulated from the molten snow.


After a few hours of climbing, I reached a good view point. These are rare to see in these areas where everything is covered by trees, even on the top of the mountains.


I was now near 2000ft in elevation. I reached the planned detour to Poet’s Ledge, and I followed it. On the way there I encountered an interesting moss. It made the whole area appear pink.


I eventually reached Poet’s Ledge. The sun was making photography difficult, and besides, I think the name wrote a check that the view could not cash.


I ate lunch there. In case you were wondering, this is what five days of food looks like, even though I was on the low end in terms of calories. It was about five pounds in total. I’ll do a separate post on the food a bit later.


What you see me wearing in the picture is the REI Revelcloud jacket. I brought it instead on my 200 Polartech fleece shirt. They are similar in warmth, but the Revelcloud, a Primaloft One fill jacket packs much smaller. It makes for a good second layer. I like my fleece more, but this is much easier to pack, which is what I needed for this trip. Also, strapped to my pack is a pair of 100 Polartech fleece pants. I started out wearing them under my pants, but they were just too warm. They ended up staying on the outside of my pack for the rest of the trip.

At this point I encountered my first problem, I was behind on my schedule. I expected to be past Poet’s ledge by noon, but it was now 2:00pm. With the sun going down around 4:30pm, I didn’t have much time to make the progress I needed. When I started walking again, I encountered a second problem, mainly that the trail crews had not made it out much past Poet’s Ledge. The hurricane had wiped out the trail. Parts were blocked by large fallen over trees, and the rest was turned into a frozen stream. From this point forward most of my time was spent off trail, which did not help the first problem, time.

Judging by the map, I was supposed to cross three streams one after the other. My initial hope when planning the trip was to be way past these streams and ready to begin bushwhacking by the end of the first day. It quickly became clear that I would be lucky to make it past the three streams. So, I counted. Around 3:30pm, I reached the third stream.


The streams and the resulting waterfalls made for some interesting views.



Now I had some decisions to make. For starters, I was way behind in terms of the distances I had to cover each day. It became obvious that I would not be able to keep to the original plan. I would have to figure out an alternative approach in the evening. A more pressing concern was whether or not to keep going. It was 3:30pm. I could keep moving for at least another half hour before setting up camp. That would give me some distance that I desperately needed. However, this was the last marked water source on the map. Once I started climbing, I would have no water until I came back to this location. I had a 4L water capacity with me. If I was careful, I could make it on about 2L of water per day, which Ideally would let me go up High Peak and come back. However, if I passed up the water source and kept going, I would have to hit another water source to fill up before setting out again in the morning. If I didn’t, I would have to come back to the stream.

I decided to risk it and pushed forward. Luckily, there was enough frozen water all around me, which allowed me to stop where I wanted, shortly after 4:00pm. I quickly set up camp and got a small fire going. For this trip I was using one of my winter sleeping bags, the Western Mountaineering Antelope MF. It is rated to 0F (-18C). I have been very happy with this bag, and this trip was no exception. 


After eating the evening was spent by the fire with a headlamp and a map, trying to plan out a different route. In the picture you see me wearing my Patagonia DAS parka. The temperature now was below 25F (-4C), and the extra warmth was appreciated.


After some thinking, here is what I decided:


The new approach was marked by the blue line. I would follow the trail up to the point where I was originally to go west to set up my approach on Round Top Mountain. From that location I would bushwhack to the first crash site. Then I would climb High Peak Mountain, after which I would descend on to the second crash site, and then catch the trail back at the base of the mountain. The tricky part was going to be the water. I would have only enough water for two days. At the speed I had been going so far, the plan would be doable, but only just.

I had clearly made my first navigational error. I had seriously overestimated the speed with which I could travel over this terrain. I am not sure if it was the added weight of the extra food, the steep increase in elevation, or the poor trail, but I had fallen way behind. More significantly, my time to complete the climb would be limited. Projecting from the speed I had been doing on the first day, I would be hard pressed to complete the ascent on just two days.

Continued on Part 2…

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