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Fresh Hell

My Eclipse Was Almost Certainly Better Than Your Eclipse

Trek through mud for a few hours and you too can be in the perfect spot.

A secluded bridge over Newcomb Lake. (Hell Gate)

Author's note: For yesterday's incredible live blog of the eclipse, my Hell Gate colleagues fanned out across New York state—some in literal motion, some smothered by clouds. My own plan to view the eclipse was also the most remote. So remote, in fact, that I immediately dropped out of cell service midway through sending some photos of a watch party in Newcomb, New York, and wasn't heard from again until several hours after the eclipse, when I weighed in on the company Slack with a declarative "Wow!" before realizing everyone had pretty much logged off, exhausted from a full day of eclipse blog activity. Nevertheless, and delayed by 10 miles of mud, here is my dispatch.

The Adirondacks, unlike New York City, still has four seasons, and the most miserable one of all is the dreaded mud season, which stretches from the spring thaw until the appearance of the ravenous black flies, who fuck around and then die by the end of June (though sometimes they hang on through July or even into August). With a late snowfall last week, the mountains were right on the precipice of spring; my hope was that in higher elevations, it was still somewhat winter, with enough snow cover to allow my watch party to cross-country ski into the mountains to the remote Santanoni Camp, where we thought the eclipse would be visible over Newcomb Lake, far away from the crowds. 

But the watch parties did look fun—as we passed through Newcomb, the tailgate vibe of dozens of people on an empty field with everyone positioned to look upward at the sky reminded me of photos of a space launch. A man was on a folding chair in the flatbed of his truck with his telescope pointed skyward and a cooler beside him, and a small stand was selling "moon rocks," which were just rocks decorated with beads.

Arriving at the trailhead, it quickly became clear that we were now a season too late to ski into the woods, as temperatures reaching the fifties had turned the remaining snow into slush with giant bald spots. Wearing microspikes on our boots instead, we began the five-mile hike to Santanoni, passing on the way a lone skier and his dog. (The skier proudly reported that he'd probably be the last person to ski on the path all year.) A mile in, at the camp's old abandoned dairy farm, we ran into two older hikers who said they were hiking in for the eclipse (oh no, company!) and a group of college-aged students who very much sported the look of panic when you combine hallucinogens with an ambitious hike and then realize you've walked too far.

Beyond that was just mud, snow, and more mud. Around an hour before the eclipse was set to begin, we arrived at Santanoni, a collection of large, connected cabins that when viewed from above, looks like a phoenix. It's one of the Adirondack "Great Camps," which were built by various dignitaries and robber barons in the 19th century when the Adirondacks were teeming with a mining and lumber economy. Today, it's run by the conservation group Adirondack Architectural Heritage. No one else was at Santanoni, possibly because, as we soon realized, the sun was not visible from the camp, the trees blocking our view of it. Possibly more threatening, to our intrepid trek dog Stiva, was the seemingly fresh paw print of a cougar leading up to the thawing lake's edge. [Editor's Note 4/12: Stacy McNulty, Associate Director and Senior Research Associate at the Adirondack Ecological Center, tells Hell Gate this was mostly likely a dog or a fox print.]

Luckily, the nearby bridge connecting the upper and lower parts of Newcomb Lake was in the perfect spot, offering a view in both directions, as well as being fairly defensible from any real or imagined predators. Also, miraculously, the sky became completely clear of clouds at around 2:30 p.m. We thought we were early for the eclipse, but upon putting on our (hopefully) non-counterfeit glasses, the moon was already beginning its crossing of the sun.

"It's happening!" I shouted, involuntarily. 

The clouds had completely dissipated, and a cool breeze wafted as the temperature began to dip. There was a sudden whoosh into half-darkness, the edges of everything blurring, the suddenly indirect light turning our surroundings into a movie set, with faces lit as if from below. Venus was now bright, off to the side of the haloed sun—a totality. 

A fish jumped out of the creek, birds took flight, and then the daylight returned.

We walked back out with our eclipse glasses partly on to see what remained of the retreating moon through the now-appearing cloud cover, the ground sucking us into its muck. 

On the way out of Newcomb, all that remained of the watch party was the stand selling "moon rocks." We ran into everybody else on I-87. 

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