4 October 2014
UPPER BENSON TRAILHEAD to MUD LAKE LEAN-TO (13.2 miles)
After a morning of last minute packing and a grocery store run, we arrived at the Northville-Placid Trailhead in the late morning. The Benson Trailhead is not the officially start of the NPT- that would be the former location of the Northville train station, ten miles further south. Unfortunately, trains no longer run to Northville, and the train station has been removed. The route from there to the Benson parking area is all on roads, some of which have 50 mile-per-hour traffic. True purist would do the road walk, but a day spent on asphalt is unappealing to us- especially in the rain- and we did not even pull over for a picture at the NPT sign.
The beginning of the trail followed an old logging road, now used by 4-wheelers, through private land. The road was covered with a thick layer of red and sugar maple leaves, shining in the rain. We were able to walk side by side until, at 1.3 miles, the trail took a sharp turn at a creek and left the road. The red and sugar maples continued, but now they were mixed with impressively large yellow birch. The only conifers were hemlocks, growing close to the stream. Some were surely over 200 years old. (Will the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid reach these trees? What a loss that would be!)
The Silver Lake Lean-to is the first camping site along the trail. Many hikers, who have more time for their trip, hike 7.5 miles their first day and them sleep there. We arrived at Silver Lake sometime in the late afternoon. (Neither of us brought a watch on this trip, so we had no real idea of what hour it was.) We ate a hot lunch of rehydrated rice and chick pea curry (store bought) while I shivered from the wet cold. It was nice to sit and watch the rain from a dry location, so we stayed longer than we should have.
Back on the trail, we tried hiking quicker to warm up, but the way was muddy, overgrown, and slippery; I soon had to slow down to keep from twisting an ankle or wrenching a knee. The hardwood forest continued, offering a relaxing range of yellows. Every so often one of us came upon a tiny red eft- a blaze of orange among the leaves. There cute little feet and mouths had me cooing every time.
The trail crossed through a gorgeous “vlei” a few miles south from Silver Lake. We had never heard of the term “vlei” before, but it looked similar to a bog with flow through. The guidebook defined it as “a low marshy area”. (Post-hike research reveals that this word is most commonly used in South Africa.). This area was an open heath and sedge dominated space. Here and there were pitcher plants poking through the sphagnum moss. The trees on the edges were spruce (presumably black) and larch. Beautiful, beautiful!
The woods started to grow dark soon after we left the vlei. Sunset came much sooner that we had expected! We stopped only one more time, to fill our water bottles with filtered water from a small stream. The stop gave us both persistent chills, especially G in his cotton-lined wind breaker. He tried to hike the rest of the way at a pace that would warm him up, but the footing was difficult in the dark, and I insisted that he slow down to stay with me. This was not a fun part of the day. The hour or so that we walked in the dark was tiring and uncomfortable. But we made it to Mud Lake Lean-to – Thank Goodness! – before I became too terrible crabby.
There were four men already set up at the lean-to when we arrived. They are in their 50’s or so, and had been there for most of the day already. They had a fire going, which was impressive and very welcome after the hours of constant drizzle. I set up our tent in a clearing behind the shelter, while G changed into warm, dry clothes. We chatted with the men while making dinner – soba noodles with tahini sauce, chives, soy sauce, garlic and sesame seeds – and then turned in for the night.