This was another trip where I simply wanted to get out and have some time to think on my own. Ridgewalking is fairly compatible with this idea, since there is nearly limitless walking to be done. Tony Grove and the White Pine Basin were the targets of this day.
I headed out with a list of a couple known locations marked on a topo map, knowing that there weren’t good entrance pictures of them. I took the path less travelled on my way out to see if I could find anything new as well. A couple small holes created a diversion and a rest on my way up and over the dividing ridge. And at the top of the ridgeline I had an expansive view into a near moonscape of karst.
I zipped down from the ridge, hardly noticing the hill from excitement to find new sinks and features. With some minimal circling I managed to find a couple of the holes that were marked on my map, and get good pictures of their entrances for the future. After hitting the nearby ones, I headed out to areas that didn’t have many holes marked yet. There was hope that people simply hadn’t walked out this far as consistently, and there were new discoveries waiting to be made.
I quickly learned why people hadn’t cover this area as closely. It was an ankle twisting karst landscape, and you had to watch your feet to keep from falling down. It made for slow searching, since most of the time you had to stop to look around. Eventually I made my way to the saddle below Mt. Magog, and found a small 10′ sink that appeared to be new to the caving world. I took it’s picture and decided what to do from there. I knew going up Magog was beyond my remaining time. Instead I dropped down into the next basin over briefly to see what was there. In the bottom I found a heavily used cow trail, but realized I was below the best cave potential. I toyed with the idea of circling Magog and coming back along the White Pine Lake trail, but wasn’t sure if the cow trail would peter out, and decided I better head back the way I had come.
Climbing the hill back to the saddle was more work than I had thought. And as I headed out across the relatively flat basin I started to observe I was travelling slower than I had on the way out. By the time I was headed up the ridge to cross back into the Tony Grove drainage I was considering where I would like to lie down and die. I don’t think I can remember being that exhausted on a hike before. I had matches and a jacket, so I knew I could spend the night if necessary. But I knew there would probably be a panic if I didn’t show up by midnight. I steeled myself to at least make the ridge and then decide from there. It took me three rest breaks to get up a couple hundred feet, but I made it.
From the ridge I could tell the sun was about to set, and I had a long way to get back to my car. But it was all downhill, and I had a light that would help if I could hit one of the maintained hiking trails before it was too dark to tell where they were. I took one more break and downed some food and water while I planned my route. Luckily I was back in familiar hiking territory from my college days, and knew which ridge lines would get me down without leaving me on top of a cliff.
I stood up and stretched my tired legs out. My biggest concern at this point was knowing I was exhausted, and headed down a steep descent for quite a while. A stumble could have very bad consequences. I focused on keeping my feet on stable ground, and headed unsteadily down the mountain. I started to recover a bit with the lower exertion of heading downhill, and decided I was going to make it out alive. I even took a few minutes to try pictures of the moose and deer I could see from hundreds of yards away.
I hit a trail I knew would take me out before I had to get out my headlamp, and was cruising as fast as I could handle back down the hill. I broke down and put on the headlamp for the last mile to the car, but mostly for my own safety. Once I hit the parking lot I couldn’t believe how light my tennis shoes felt in contrast to my heavy hiking boots. It was full dark as I came down the canyon, and from Logan I called to let folks know I was headed back. My mother has no idea how close she came to pushing me over the edge when she started asking if I could swing 40 minutes out of my way to pick up some things at her sisters house. Luckily she reconsidered, and I headed straight for basecamp before I was too tempted to fall asleep behind the wheel.
I showered, crashed into a bed, and don’t think I moved again for 10-12 hours. My thoughts about spending the following day hiking were long forgotten, and I settled for eating and napping instead. I had found some interesting things, and somehow haven’t managed to get all the way back to the far end of my trip to look again….