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Backpacking the NPT: The Allure of Deep Woods

The Allure of Deep Woods
What’s the best way to experience the Wilderness? That’s one of the recurring themes in Walt Mclaughlin’s new book about hiking the Northville-Placid Trail (NPT) in New York’s Adirondack Park. Like most of us, Walt can’t take off whenever he feels like it to hike a long trail, so he sticks to shorter journeys that can be hiked in 3 weeks or less like the 125 mile NPT, Vermont’s Long Trail, or Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness.

But Walt takes a very different approach to backpacking than many of us that hike trails, one that bears some consideration and reflection. Rashing than dashing along at breakneck speed, Walt prefers to linger along the way. He’ll sit resting against a tree for a few hours during the day and watch the clouds go by or stay for a few nights at a nice lean-to with a good fishing pond. Walt values being in the wild far more than the “big brag” of hiking a trail as fast as possible.

He writes, “The wild is that intangible, unnameable Otherness that’s so pervasive out here. I see it in the green infinity all around me. I hear it in the deep forest silence. It smells like ozone, wet moss, wilderflowers, and something decaying. It excites all my senses but remains imperceptible, ever elusive, mystical. It’s something raw and unfettered. It’s what motivates people like me to come out here time and again despite mud, bugs, and rain, and countless other hardships. For lack of better words, I call it the wild, as many woodswalkers have before me. I could give you a dozen good reasons from coming out here, but none of them would hold up to careful scrutiny. Not really.”

I know that feeling and felt it return as I read “The Allure of Deep Woods.” It’s the feeling you get when you hike through an old New England forest over a root choked trail and camp on a soft understory of damp and decaying pine needles. When the canopy of trees obliterates the mid-day sun and time slows down. When  you know it’s drizzling rain but you don’t care because the leaf cover will keep you dry until the storm blows through. When a trout leaps at a fly and lands with a splash, and you watch rings of ripples spread across a pond.

Walt’s writing brings me back to those times when I’m not in a rush and can sit and watch the world around me at leisure. He reminds me that backpacking is not about going someplace fast, but about getting back to that private lean-to where I can lie awake in the morning, dry and warm in my sleeping bag, and think of nothing for a long while. The Northeast is full of private ponds and forest glades where you can get back to the “wild” and the Northville Placid Trail sounds like a good bet if you want a shorter hike that takes you back to the deep woods.

The Allure of Deep Woods: Backpacking the Northville Placid Trail by Walt McLaughlin,Woodthrush Books, 2013

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  1. Yes, the NPT is a mild and contemplative trail. It also has it’s bad side. A ten mile road walk at the start. A mildly difficult 3000′ climb between Long Lake and Blue Mountain. Roots from hell that grab a hikers feet. Blowdown after blowdown leading you deep into the forest. And more rain…this year was wet. Rain that makes even laying in your bag difficult as the dampness seeps in. But, for all it’s bad points you get to experience ten other good points. A thrush singing, a grouse with a “broken” wing protecting her chicks (from me? I laughed at her.) Trout gently rising to a morning hatch along the Cold River. And so much more. Not something you get to see every day.

  2. The “hanging out with nature” is something I do a lot more of since the kid came along. Partly because she’s slow and can’t walk a full day, but partly because she brings me new eyes to everything.

    Don’t know if I’ll ever be out that way, but he sounds like my kind of guy.

  3. Yeh, it’s an awesome experience to hike the NPT when you can take your time. I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

  4. The 10 mile road walk at the beginning is optional. Most hikes start at the state trailhead in Benson, not Northville. Blowdowns are cleared periodically and generally the trail is free of them.

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