NECE 2 – New York is KINDA New England, right?
After a week spent slowly resting from the previous week of Baltimore, NYC, and more, Friday rolled around, and it was time to go on the second of my New England Camping Experiences… though to New York state, which isn’t technically part of New England.
The breakdown in nomenclature aside, the plan was to go see Fort Ticonderoga (as it is an American Revolution site I have always heard is worth the trip, and isn’t too far from my friend John who is located in Rochester NY at the moment); the planned camping was situated to be close to that, but then also took on hiking up Giant Mountain, the 12th tallest peak in the state of New York. All told, a hell of a strenuous weekend, but one of the few places where natural beauty was quite literally jaw-dropping and breath-taking.
John and I have been friends for a long time, so much so that we were in Scouts back in the day and our troops were at camping events at the same time. Our penchant for fire and FIRE and relaxing have remained the same; our capacity to drive long distances and plan the entire schedule for the weekend have seriously improved over the years. So, I found the campground and set that up, and he figured out the best hiking in the area, and we set off after work on Friday.
The campground was very much situated within civilization, with no space or demarcation whatsoever between campsites and a GIGANTIC OVERLY-LIT BRIDGE TO VERMONT 500 feet away, and this wasn’t ideal. But we made the best of it, had a huge breakfast and then drove to the aptly- (albeit uncreatively-) named Giant Mountain. The twelfth-highest peak in NY was no small task, so bacon and home fries cooked in an iron skillet over wooden coals was the order of the morning, and hot damn what a delicious order it was (thanks in no small part to John’s cooking).
Mostly awake (I had slept in and was still tired), we drove to the base of the “Roaring Brook trail and only got back to the campsite around 8pm; more on that in the next section. So tired upon our return that delicious dinner burgers for Saturday instead became delicious breakfast burgers for Sunday, which is alright by me.
The campground also featured a gorgeous, recently-restored monument to Samuel de Champlain, the intrepid French explorer for whom the Lake is named.
Hiking Giant Mountain
The main attraction for the weekend in the nature department was hiking Giant Mountain, and we got a workout. “A mere 3.6 miles to the top of the peak doesn’t sound like much of a peak,” I initially commented like an idiot. John pointed out that the peak is something like 3300 feet higher than the base of the mountain where embarked, so that is a STEEP goddamned trail.
Not a joke, some portions of the trail were close to vertical at points, and so its a good thing we had neither climbing gear nor proper shoes (the tennis shoes I did wear were worn to all hell, and had no traction remaining)! Certainly made for a dangerous and character-building experience!
The view from the top made the destruction of our knees and legs quite worth it. Obligatory mini-gallery of said view:
The hike down, we took the other path, the blue one. The alpine forest at the top of the mountain was one single section of trail, and split into the two options to get up the hill. Whereas the red, our trail upwards, was mostly dirt paths and boulders amongst the woods, the trail down was maybe 1/3 flat sections of stone and rock, that made for hell on the knees (as I write this 2 days later, I am still limping a bit), but it was all quite worth it, to encounter nature in ways that dropped the jaw more than one time at the sheer beauty around us.
Visiting the destroyed forts of Crown Point
Across the street from the campsite, and actually free to us as campers, was the ruins of two forts that were integral to the French and Indian War, and the border disputes (between the French, British, Iroquois, and Algonquians) before and after. The French successfully built and defended Fort St. Frédéric against the British on multiple occasions… so successfully that the British rounded up 13,000 troops to take it (the largest land army in North American history to that point). The French got wind of this, quickly destroyed the fort and their town themselves (no British allowed in THEIR tree house, thank you), and ran. The British, pleased with themselves, built the enormous earthworks and Fort Crown Point, and were 1) promptly never attacked and indeed 2) had a careless chimney fire ignite the gunpowder stores… two buildings over and blow the thing up mostly.
Though it blew up, a slew of cannons survived and were there 2 years later in 1775 for Nathaniel Green and Benedict Arnold to capture, for George Washington’s use in a certain American revolution you may have read about. Quite a bit of history, for the museum and ruins across Bridge Street from our campsite, no?
I cannot claim to understand fully JUST how lucrative the fur trade was in the 1700’s, to validate forts like this (the British used 4000 men over the course of 4 years to build Fort Crown Point), but even though we only quickly checked out the museum exhibits, it was an interesting dose of “wow, I really don’t know as much as I should know on the topic of pre-American Revolution disputes to understand how borders and alliances formed… and by extension, I don’t know that much about anything at all!” (it was also a dose of run-on sentences, in the composition of the preceding prose)
Fort Ticonderoga, Mount Defiance
After a great weekend spent in nature, John decided to head for home to allow for some time to work on a paper prior to sleeping; having a shorter drive and having originally wanted to see Fort Ticonderoga anyways, I went the other direction and checked it out.
For one, this whole trip was an interesting study into “Where do people from Quebec go on vacation,” because the answer appears to be “the Adirondacks and and around Lake Champlain.” The weather was gorgeous, and the Fort had a lot of visitors; but it also had a large number of staff dressed and acting like historical French soldiers and civilians, which was interesting.
After touring the battlements and the cannons thereupon, I stood off to the side for one of the military music demonstrations by the fifes and drums of Ticonderoga, and rather enjoyed their precision with such imprecise instruments!
The reenactors around the place were committed, especially the fifes and drums. Fort Ticonderoga seems like a great place to bring one’s kids, in terms of how the exhibits and explanations are geared (meant for families), so it wasn’t my favorite place to go learn; but in terms of seeing how big a fort it was, built by hand and maybe some oxen, was worth the trip.
The view from Mount Defiance must be interjected here, before I describe the verdant gardens on the premises. Fort Ticonderoga was captured by different powers several times, but the butcher’s bill for head-on assaults was quite high. The British captured it once, then later recaptured it, because they realized how easy it would be to fix cannons with impunity from the significantly-higher Mount Defiance.
Not hard to understand how the fort was easily retaken not once, but twice by the British after I trekked up there (no one else seemed to figure out how important the much taller mountain was for artillery) because they dragged cannons up the damned mountain to shell the fort.
The King’s Garden, to close this post, was a portion of the Ticonderoga park that is part of the Pell family’s estate. The Pells owned the land after purchasing it from New York and were instrumental in preserving the initial ruins of the fort and later restoring many of them; the gardens were redone by famous American landscape architect Marian Cruger Coffin,
Kinda like what I want to do on my own piece of property, hopefully in the very near future.
So then, all told, it was one hell of a gorgeous weekend, and on the cheap, too:
Fuel: $51.26 (41mpg, my friends)
Campground cost: $27 for two nights
Due to probable imminent shoulder surgery in September, I am not sure when the next NECE will take place, but stay tuned. There are many moons between now and my May 2014 departure from this place.