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“Hoffman Notch”, Chapter 39 of “Inside and Outside”, A Free Book

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PEAKED MOUNTAIN IN THE CENTRAL ADIRONDACKS, ANOTHER BUSHWHACK HIKE WITH MY SON TO A REMOTE PEAK

This Week, “Hoffman Notch”, Chapter 39 of “Inside and Outside” (we’ll walk through that birch grove again)

Next Week, “ Her Face”, Chapter 40 of “Inside and Outside” (totally in love with that smile)

Update:

This is a true story about a bushwhack hike to a remote place and peak in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. Once in a while, you come across magical places and situations that convince you that higher spirits live there. On the way to our destination we walked through a stand of birch trees, their leaves turned bright yellow with the coming of fall. I can see how the reverent symbol of the “halo” was conceived. “The yellow light from the sun filtering through the turning leaves cast a golden glow on and around my son’s face.” I was awestruck with that image. I close my eyes and see it every time I think of that day and my son standing beside me in that stand of birch trees.

Hoffman Notch

The walk into Hoffman Notch is almost flat, a low passage sandwiched between surrounding trailless peaks. Not many people go there, probably an occasional hunter and a few peak baggers like my son and myself. We found a makeshift lean-to above the notch on Hoffman Brook. A few rusted cans of food indicated this retreat had not been visited in a long time. My son and I come here, and many places like it, to climb remote peaks, find peace and solitude, and visit and commune with the spirits who inhabit these places.

Hoffman Brook runs into the notch, the brook and its tributaries feeding a series of beaver ponds in the area. The year before, a beaver, running deep and silent as a torpedo, glided under the embankment where we stood, finding an air pocket to wait out our departure. The upper reaches of the brook are anything but flat. Above the ponds, dense undergrowth crowds the brook. Half way up the flank of Hoffman Mountain a major tributary reaches the brook, dropping over a thirty-foot waterfall into a deep green pool. The mossy cascade of the main brook feeds this same pool. Waterlogged tree limbs and debris washed in by spring torrents and melted snow, line and surround the water’s edge like a child’s abandoned game of pick up sticks. The place is magical. I think of fairies and trolls living here.

Just beyond the pool, one leaves the brook to slab up the main peak of Hoffman Mountain. From there the going is very slow, the undergrowth unrelievedly thick. It was here we had stopped the year before. If we had persisted, we would have run out of daylight long before getting back to the car. We decided we would return the following year. Next time, rather than a day trip, we would stay overnight in the notch before climbing the mountain.

Exactly a year later, on one of the warmest days in October on record, we’re back at it, starting the long trek into the notch. Shortly after leaving the car, we enter a stand of birches. The yellow light from the sun filtering through the turning leaves casts a golden glow on my son’s face. The wet blond hairs on his arms and legs sparkle like spun glass. A bug could get hopelessly lost in my son’s hairy legs. As we approach the notch, we pass a large pond and marsh. Hoffman Mountain outlined by a bright blue sky is reflected off the surface of the water. We’re down to our undershirts and sweating. We brought too much clothing.

It’s three PM when we reach the notch, plenty of time to find a good campsite with nearby running water. We find an ideal place with soft level ground for our two-man tent. A fallen tree provides an ideal place to sit and cook and eat. The stream looks good enough to drink from with cupped hands. Unfortunately, the beavers have fouled the water with their little microscopic monkey face pathogens. Nowadays, all water should be treated before drinking to avoid the Giardia lamblia protozoa or giardiasis (beaver fever) which does a nasty job on your intestines, requiring antibiotics to kill it off. After we set up camp, we scout out the start of tomorrow’s hike. The beaver have flooded a large area of our planned route, which must be circumnavigated the next day.

Hiking is all about rewards. Reaching our objective on that trip was gratifying, of course, but just spending the time together in the quiet sanctuary was even more important. My son and I came there to receive communion, providing sustenance for the body and soul. The highlight of these trips is the supper hour and the time remaining before the light from our candle lantern flickers out.

Over the years, my backpacking evening meal preferences have distilled down to a favorite few. Food that I normally wouldn’t touch at home (at least you wouldn’t find my wife serving it) becomes five-star fare at this tavern in the green. For the cocktail hour, Velveeta processed cheese will hold up to any kind of heat, lasts for days. Pepperoni will kill most things that land on it, the only food that fights back. Without a sense of smell, I wouldn’t know if it had turned bad. Stone Wheat Crackers, made in Canada, won’t crumble and turn to powder in your pack. Canned smoked oysters in cottonseed oil can’t be beat (do they make paint with this stuff?). It’s the only canned luxury in my pack. Carlo Rossi burgundy or Chianti, which I decant at home into a Nalgene water bottle, truly enhances the flavor of the Velveeta, pepperoni and 10W30 oil soaked oysters.

The main course is a dry commercial package of Louisiana style spicy rice and beans. On a two-night excursion, we alternate between red and black beans. The package contains enough salt to more than make up for my daily electrolyte loss, probably enough to raise my blood pressure 20 points. While the rice and beans cook and hydrate, we throw in some pepperoni left over from the cocktail hour. As Martha Stewart might say, this adds flavor and color to the meal. And finally, we wash it all down with a liter of more electrolyte in the form of Gatorade, which like the wine, disguises the musty taste of our water bottles.

We draw out the process of cocktail hour and supper as long as possible, since there is nothing else to do except talk and proclaim how much we love this place. Each bite of food or sip of wine is doled out in exact proportions, heavens if one of us gets one more cubic centimeter than the other.

Tonight, it remains unusually warm. I’ll end up half out of my sleeping bag. The difficult job of falling asleep on my foam pad begins. I drift off and suddenly awake to the sounds of the stream. Off and on again, and finally, it seems like eternity, light peaks over the ridge hiding the notch. My old joints need limbering up. That will happen soon enough, following my son up Hoffman Brook. We’ll be up and down in less than six hours, with plenty of time to collect our heavy packs and return to the car. On the way back, we’ll walk through that birch grove again. The golden light will shine on his face.

Next Week, “ Her Face”, Chapter 40 of “Inside and Outside” (totally in love with that smile)

Dick Sederquist is a retired engineer, engineering consultant, writer, author, hiker, motivational speaker and cancer and depression survivor. Dick suffered an emotional breakdown 35 years ago, realizing that he had been depressed all his life. That started his long journey back to mental health and happiness. Dick writes motivational and inspirational nonfiction short stories and essays for general audiences on many topics including life, family, humor, spirituality, nature, science, his volunteer prison experiences, hiking and travel adventures, depression, overcoming adversity, and what the author refers to as “home improvement”, healing the mind and body we live in. Dick and his wife have been married 50 years; have two grown children and four grandchildren, all part of a close-knit, active, caring and loving family. The whole family believes that the greatest gift in life is helping others.

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