I am running down a mountain. Or perhaps the mountain is running upme. All I know is, I’m making quick work of this descent. I noticed a more direct line down the upper flank of the mountain, which I can see from here rejoins the Saddleback Trail just below the pass, cutting off at least a quarter mile, maybe more, from the route I took on the way up. The going is exceedingly steep, and slowing myself down takes a good 15 or 20 feet to execute. I imagine somebody standing atop Saddle Peak, directly across from here, and watching the vertical plume of dust that rises up from my footfalls, watching it makes its way down the steep slope, like a mini-tornado racing for the foot of the mountain. I have to stop every 30 seconds or so to de-sand-and-rock my hiking shoes; but it’s worth the exhilaration of basically throwing my body down a mountainside.
As I approach tree-line, near Saddleback Pass, the slope of the trail begins to taper towards the horizontal; and I begin to move much slower (because for the first time on this descent, I can). I have just said goodbye to the sun for the last time today; and as I think about the rest of my hike, down through the thick forest below, my mind turns to grizzly bears. It’s getting on prime time for bear sightings; so I take out the canister of bear spray, secure it in my right hand, and practice drawing down on a charging grizzly, acting all Indiana-Jones-in-the-Cairo-Arabian-Market-Square for a few moments. I’m not too concerned about the possibility of running into anything threatening; but just the same I keep watchful, and keep the bear spray close at hand.
My shortcut intersects the main trail just down from Saddleback Pass; and almost immediately I am skidding on my heels and soles through the snowfields through which I passed a little over an hour and a half ago. My hiking shoes fill with more of that miserably piercing icy snow; but now there’s no sunlight to warm them or dry them; so I stop at the end of the snowfields and immediately empty out my shoes, warming my freezing toes with my hands for a few moments.
Suddenly I feel unacceptably vulnerable: crouched down on a step of the trail, hunched over my footwear, and not looking around me, with darkness seeping into the surrounding forest. I’m just asking for it if a mountain lion were to happen on me like this. I jump up in alarm, as if there is something there. But there isn’t. I continue on.
When the trail plunges back into the darkening forest for the last time, the views are all behind me, the bears are wherever they are (possibly still up ahead), and my appetite has started to draw me downhill. I break into a full-on sprint, tearing through the woods with unbridled glee, alone and in my element. Anytime an obstacle appears before me, I simply leap over it, imagining that I am doing so in slow-motion.
After a time I start to smell meat cooking on a grill. The trailhead and campgrounds are near at last. I emerge from the forest and onto the pavement of the trailhead parking lot at 8:15 PM, before my turnaround time has even arrived. I see the Rav 4, now on the far side of the lot; and I see my wife in the back, rearranging our gear. Peanut spots me at once and comes racing across the parking lot to greet me, conveying an urgency that is just plain ridiculous, but no less endearing for its seeming overzealousness. He is happy to see me: overjoyed, really. He seems like he’s about to literally drop dead or just simply explode from the excitement of my return. I know how he feels. An hour or so ago, I felt like I was about to explode myself, seemingly unable to take in all the sensory stimuli bombarding me. But I lived; and he will, too.
My wife spent the last few hours securing us a campsite, so we wouldn’t have to go looking for one now. What a keeper. We drive off towards camp; and to my surprise, I catch another glimpse of the lowering sun, through the notch of a low pass to the west. As we head to the night’s campground, a few miles north of Lake Louise, along the Icefields Parkway, the canyon walls to my right glow in an array of iridescent warm colors, catching the last of the day’s sun.
We pull into camp; and I open a can of frigid Budweiser. I borrow a neighbor’s axe, and spend 20 minutes getting my Paul Bunyan on, splintering logs into burnable pieces of wood. I start the fire, and sit back in my camp chair to wait for the coals to get hot enough for grilling. A fresh pack of Italian sausages waits patiently on the table beside me.
We are so far north that the darkness comes later than I’ve ever seen it. I don’t even dig out my headlamp until 10:30 PM; and I don’t even turn it on until 11:45. Aah, the north. I hit the sack at 12:30, to rest up for another day of high-Canadian alpine adventure. Tomorrow it’s the Icefields Parkway, clear up to Jasper National Park, that other crown jewel of the Canockies.
But I wouldn’t worry. Soon virtual reality will neutralize this problem, by making it not even necessary to leave our computer chairs to enjoy the wilderness; but in the meantime- catch me if you can, douche-bags!
I reach the summit of Fairview Mountain at 7:05 PM, exactly 95 minutes after leaving the shore of Lake Louise. That’s better time than I even thought I’d make. I feel terrific: fit, enlivened, invigorated, and lucky. And I’ve got this whole place to myself, which is extra sweet.
The view from the summit confirms my suspicion that this pig would prove a worthy contender in the All-Time-Most-Understated-Mountain-Name contest. I am no longer gazing up at lofty glaciers and towering rock peaks, I am now looking across at them, and in several cases, even down at them. At last I am high in the Canadian Rockies, as I have long wished to be. If there is any other living soul sharing this vista with me, they are on wings, or four legs; because I can see in all directions; and there is nobody else around. Surprisingly, there is no wind blowing on the summit today; in fact, I am still in my shorts, and shirtless, and perfectly warm. Who would have guessed that one could cap a 9,000-footer in the Canockies without feeling so much as a slight chill?
Whichever way I look, the land falls away beneath my feet. Directly below, to the north, lies the silty emerald-green body of Lake Louise; and I am pleased to say that the sun is still shining on it- at least on the tiny bit of it that I can see from here; for a protruding sub-peak on the northern flank of the mountain hides much of the lake from view. At any rate, the entire lake will be in shadow before much longer. The westering sun hangs above and behind the ridgeline of the continental divide, visible in the northwestern sky in the direction of Mt. Whyte. Due to the angle of the sun’s rays at this late point in the day, the lake, though partially visible, does not shimmer or shine in gloriously reflected light particles, as it surely would if I was standing here in, say, the late morning; but that fact does little to detract from the awesomeness of the spectacle laid out before me.
The Fairmont Chateau sits by the lakeshore, 3,300 feet below, utterly dwarfed by the expansive rich green Bow River Valley in which it sits, a point of reference useful for gauging the sizes of the other landscape features all around.
Scurrying across the jagged boulders strewn about every square inch of the summit, I carefully pick a route that I expect will afford me a better view down into the gigantic glacial cirque that lies between the lake’s far end (not visible from here) and Mt. Victoria, further west, on the continental ridgeline. As I creep along the edge of a sheer dropoff of at least 2,000 feet, I forego my usual rock-hopping, instead choosing my steps carefully and methodically. And it’s a good thing, too; because at one point I plant my foot on what looks like a boulder of shale, but proves instead to be merely a thin plate of shale resting atop a smaller boulder of shale. My unevenly distributed weight causes the flat piece of shale to slide out from under my foot; and if not for the firm hold my left hand has on a more stable piece of the mountain, I would be tumbling down an unforgiving cliff, with the rocks I’d just loosened tumbling behind me, hot on my heels. This close call inspires me to take it down a notch; and so I abort my mission to gain the westward overlook. That’s fine, though- I’ve already made it far enough to see the entirety of the Victoria Glacier, now fully in shadow, and the Plain of Six Glaciers, tumbling down to the lake’s western end. This sight, seen from on high like this, is exceedingly satisfying. I draw a deep breath of pure atmosphere, and drink it in with relish.
I turn to face the southward view- across a deep, vertical-walled canyon separating Fairview Mountain from Sheol Mountain, the latter of which rises another 110 feet or so higher than the former. The intervening canyon is far too deep for me to see its bottom. Just beyond Sheol Mountain, and slightly east (left) of its bulk, I can now survey a bit more of the lower Paradise Valley than I could before, though now everything in that direction is in deep shadow.
Eastward is an unbroken panorama of serrated ridgeline peaks stretching from beyond the village of Banff in the southeast clear up to the lofty crags that line the legendary Icefields Parkway, which stretches all the way up to Jasper, 140 miles still further north. Tomorrow we will be driving this epic road- another thing I have long wished to do.
The light of pre-dusk, coupled with the crisp, clear alpine air, has an effect of making certain features of the land pop out, as if in 3-D; which, I suppose they are, being that this is the real world, and not just a photograph of it. But the features jump all the more in these specific conditions. Sunbeams shine at me now through the rocks at my feet. It won’t be long now.
As the sun begins its final descent behind the looming wall to the west, the enormous shapes of the continental divide peaks to the west are projected eastward as grotesquely oversized shadows against the placid green tree-cover that blankets the Bow River Valley. As the minutes tick on by, the shadows inch their way ever higher up the opposing ridge, until at last the fading light starts to dissolve the shadows into nocturnal nothingness. Dusk has begun. Time to get moving.
More and more hikers pass me, all heading downhill. I ask each group if there are still others above them- that is, if they know-; and so far, it is reported, there are still a number of hikers higher up. Normally, whether or not there were other folks up ahead would be of little concern to me; but in this case I feel the need to know, because when the point comes in my hike where I am all alone up on this mountain- just me and the rogue grizzly-, it’d be good to know this for certain, so I can make a little more noise. Ain’t tryna turn a corner to a face full of grizzly five feet away. Although I would love to see one from a distance. So far nobody has seen any bear sign.
I trek onwards and upwards; and eventually the trail leaves the forest for good. I can now see that I am heading up into a sort of notch or saddle between Fairview Mountain and the next one over, Saddle Peak, whose 8,000-foot summit towers overhead, a little to the left of my current trajectory. Lake Louise is now hidden entirely from view behind the bulk of Fairview Mountain. The trail switchbacks steadily upwards, and the trail here is thick with the mud of melt-water from the snowfields above. I pick my way around the wet spots, and shortly arrive at the first snowfield. A shallow cave in the snow marks the spot where the runoff creek emerges from under the snowy blanket; and I make a point to avoid walking over the snow at this spot. I do not wish to post-hole through a snowbank, which would most likely leave my foot submerged in a glacial creek, and my leg snuggly wedged into a tube of sharp frozen snow particles. I re-route away from the hidden creek; and step up onto the white bank, now brown with mud and footprints. The snow here is only a few feet deep; but there is no avoiding its icy bite on my exposed heels; and after a few steps, both of my hiking shoes have admitted enough frozen snow that both of my toes are pierced with frosty pain. No matter, though- this was expected.
As I come up close under Saddleback Pass, the sun’s rays are cut off by the hill I am climbing; and just as I lose the sun, its light is kaleidoscopically rendered through the bright green lush leaves which line the trail on both sides, still wet from the earlier rain shower.
At tree-line the trail at last levels off on its final approach to 7,700-ft Saddleback Pass. Crossing a barren, rocky meadow, I pass a French family on their way down; and they tell me that they are the last ones to have left the summit. Good to know- I’m on my own now.
At Saddleback Pass, I’m back in the path of the direct sun again. It’s bright light floods my field of vision, as I proceed directly into its face for an interval. From here, the Saddleback Trail continues straight down the back side of the pass into Paradise Valley, the area where the reported rogue grizzly has been the most active. My trail breaks away right from here, and almost immediately begins to climb in earnest up to the summit of Fairview Mountain, whose bulk now fills most of my right periphery. I look to the right. From here the trail can be plainly seen as it passes through a small wood of stunted trees- the last remnants from the tree-covered lower elevations-, unable to reach their full heights here, because they started their growth process too far up the mountainside. Emerging from the stunted forest, the trail then begins to switchback steeply up a sandy, rocky pitch- up, up, up, until the curvature of the mountain itself causes the trail to curve away out of view towards the summit. Looking south from just above Saddleback pass, I see 9,100-foot Sheol Mountain, directly across from me, its long shadow casting the lower Paradise Valley in a premature-dusk .
The climb is grueling, and the going rough. When I turn around, I am now looking down at both the Bow River Valley and, on the other side of Saddle Peak, the lower end of Paradise Valley, an implausibly lush green hidden river valley, walled in on three sides by steep canyon walls of ancient shale and limestone. The valley is shaped like a bathtub with one end lopped off; and its towering walls of sheer rock call to mind H.G. Wells’s “The Country Of The Blind”, a beautifully-written story in which a man, after taking a nasty fall while mountaineering somewhere in the Peruvian Andes, wakes up on a cliff, high up in the eaves of an unfamiliar-looking valley. Since he’s not seriously hurt, he makes his way down into the valley, and finds it to be inhabited by a population of blind people. The valley in the story is closed off on all sides to the outside world: Banff’s Paradise Valley has an outlet, I just can’t see it from here, due to the intervening mass of Saddle Peak, due southeast by less than a mile.
I am forced to stop for breath after just about every other switchback- leaning over, breathing heavily, with my hands on my knees and my head swiveling about to take in the sensory overload all around. Distant ridgelines become increasingly visible as my vantage point slowly rises above the intervening front-ranges. New valleys are revealed to me as I ascend ever higher.
This trail must require a good bit of annual maintenance, I think to myself. Every step I take towards the summit pushes more of the dirt and rock beneath my feet further down the slope of the mountain. In this way, the trail must get obliterated on a fairly-regular basis- from mere use alone, which is to say nothing of the toll that the harsh northern Canadian winters and summer rains must exact upon this precarious route- a route designed by man, to allow for man to venture forth to a point in nature where Mother Nature does not seem to have intended for him to go.
I start walking at 5:30 PM. My goal is to view Lake Louise from the summit of Fairview Mountainbefore the sun’s light has left the lake in shadow. A tall order? Perhaps. But I feel up to it. The trail starts climbing at once, up into the aforementioned heavy forest, the extreme fringe of which blocks the view of the lake from the parking lot, as I mentioned earlier.
After about 15 minutes of walking, the trail leaves the forest for a short stretch, contouring fairly steeply across a hillside for a few hundred yards before passing back into heavy tree cover. Here I get my first views, eastward, down into the striking Bow River Valley, along whose namesake river runs the Trans-Canada Highway, on its way westward from the Village of Banff, 35 miles down-valley, up here to Lake Louise, and then up and over the continental divide and down into British Columbia, bound for its western terminus on Vancouver Island.
I’m looking out across the tops of the trees of the forest through which I have just passed. On the far side of the valley, a row of formidable-looking mountains form a barrier against the lands beyond. The front-range peaks of this group: Mt. Lipalian, Castle Mountain (at the base of which we camped last night), Mt. Ishbel, Cockscomb Mountain, and Mt. Cory stand tall over the Bow Valley Parkway, which parallels the Trans-Canada Highway, offering access to the various trailheads, campgrounds, and various other points of interest along this stretch. The upper reaches of these giants are largely hidden behind the glistening white cover of hanging glaciers, which in a few spots are angled just right for reflecting the sun’s light directly back into my face; and at these spots the light explodes into dramatic rays, some of which pass through the lingering moisture above the valley- remnant of an earlier rain shower-, launching multiple rainbows skyward before my eyes. Impressive though this vista is, I choose not to linger long, considering the hour, my goal of catching Lake Louise still bathed in sunlight, and the obvious knowledge that the views are gonna just keep getting better. I move on.
Back in the woods again, I continue to climb steadily. I ask a group of passing hikers if they have seen any sign of bears today; but they haven’t. The trail soon switches back on itself; and so now I’m walking with the mountain on my left side, the forest below me on my right. At the next switchback, the trail again leaves the cover of the forest for a few yards; and I stop to survey the view briefly. The view has been beefed up dramatically since my last stop. Now I can see the northeastern end of Lake Louise, the rest of which is hidden behind the main mass of Fairview Mountain. A few hundred yards back from the lake, across a large cul-de-sac, looms the 8-story Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a 4.5-star hotel, for those who must see the wonders of Lake Louise, but are above sleeping outside.
The Story of How Two Guys Forced Their Way into One of the Most Epic Phish Shows Ever
Halloween 1994 – Glens Falls, NY
By Deek Speredelozzi
In the late 80s and early 90s I went to a lot of concerts; and I even paid for a few of them. To a substantial number of the shows I went to in those days, however, I gained admittance by either vaulting myself over a wall, crashing through a fence, hacking my way through a swampy forest like a Sandinista guerilla warrior in sandals and shorts, or climbing through a hatch in the ceiling of a venue (more on that in a bit).
I spent a significant portion of the years 1991 through 1995 fucking off at UMASS Amherst, and spent the rest of that time working hilariously dead-end jobs in and around Boston while living intermittently at my childhood home in a nearby suburb. Aside from partying, working on my guitar skills, staying up late, waking up late, and exploring the main streets, back roads, and dirt tracks of northwestern New England, my primary activity (or at least the one by which I identified myself most readily at the time) throughout these years was following the band Phish all around the northeastern U.S. During this time, my friends and I attended virtually every Phish show that occurred within a 300 mile radius of our college town of Amherst, MA; and in those days, those geographical parameters encompassed the bulk of the band’s live shows. From Long Island, New York, to Montreal, Quebec; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Bangor, Maine; and Syracuse, New York to Mansfield, Mass, my face, and that of my best friend Jeff, were near-constant presences in the front row of shows- always directly in front of Trey Anastasio, the band’s ridiculously sick and creative guitarist/songwriter/frontman.
For all the shows my friends and I used to sneak into, however, we always paid for the Phish shows. For one thing, we were rabid fans of the band and wanted to support them; and for another, even though we were always broke as fuck, it was much more of a priority for us to be up there in the front row, directly in front of Trey, at every possible show, than it was to try to save money getting into shows for free. Plus, by trying to sneak into shows, you ran the risk of missing the show entirely if you didn’t make it in; and that option was totally unacceptable to us. It was a risk I could afford to take for, say, a Doobie Brothers or Tom Petty show; but not Phish. Every Phish show was different from every other Phish show; so if you missed one, you missed something uniquely special; whereas if you missed a Doobies or Petty show, if it was that important to you you could just go to the next one and see the same exact concert as the one you’d missed.
Sometime late in the summer of 1994, Phish, who had at this point been playing Halloween shows for years, announced that they would be donning a “musical costume” (defined as: a cover performance of a complete album by another band) at their upcoming Halloween show in Glens Falls, NY. Around this time, the band was ascendant, and gaining momentum; and so the venues they were playing were getting bigger all the time, and the acquisition of tickets was becoming ever more competitive and cut-throat with each successive tour. For years we had been able to pretty much just show up at any Phish show we wanted, without even necessarily having acquired tickets yet, and always get in. There was never any fear of the venue selling out and us being left out in the cold.
The Fall of ’94 was when it started becoming necessary to really be on the ball if you wanted to assure yourself tickets to Phish shows. In some cases it was even necessary to literally spend an entire night, from 10 or 11 PM until 10 AM, sitting and shivering in the freezing cold outside the ticket office of the venue, in order to be first (or near first) in line to get tickets when they went on sale the next day, lest they all sell out before you could even get your shot. This was before the internet and the out-of-control Ticketmaster monopoly and all that bullshit. In those days you had to do all this stuff in “actual reality”, that is, the real, 3-D world, where the imagery is not pixelated, and the color palette is infinite.
I Saw You, With No Ticket Stub in Your Hand
When the show went on sale, Jeff was on top of things, and got tickets for himself and his younger brother and sister. My friend Dennis and I were not so proactive about it; and we soon paid for our inaction. We were completely taken aback by the swiftness with which the available Halloween tickets seemed to evaporate almost instantaneously upon release. The music had stopped abruptly, and we were the ones left standing without chairs. We’d snoozed and lost. And the few people we knew of who had extra tickets for sale were pricing them prohibitively far beyond any reasonable spending limit, at least for a couple of broke-ass college fuck-ups like us. We had failed, for the first time ever, to get Phish tickets. And what a big fail it was. We knew that this show stood a very good chance of going down in Phishtory as one of the all-time most epic classics; and the thought of missing it simply could not be entertained.
On the Way Upwards, the Colors Come Back
As the fall wore on towards Halloween, excitement for the Glens Falls show was mounting sharply throughout the Phish community, as folks speculated with increasing excitement on what classic album the band might cover. And Dennis and I were by no means immune to the rising tide of anticipation building around the show, though our excitement was tempered with the nagging awareness that we still had no way to actually get into the show.
Broken Young Men in a World Unkind
Alas, no miracles came our way; and when the week of the show arrived, we still desperately needed a plan. In no way had we conceded defeat- we refused to accept not going as an option. On the other hand, we knew that no amount of mere stubbornness was going to get us through those doors; vague insistences, weightless declarations, and futile appeals to fate were no longer going to cut it. Measures had to be taken.
Put Your Wingsuits On
So early in the afternoon of October 31st, Dennis and I jumped in my little piece of shit Toyota Tercel, stopped by the package store in Amherst Center to pick up a twelver of Oregon Raspberry Wheat Ale, and hit the road for Glens Falls, NY. We had decided to just wing it and see what would happen. We had no idea how; but somehow we both just knew that we would not be kept out of that concert.
Slaves to the Traffic Lights
Pounding our way through the beers as we went, we carved a path across the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, bound for New York’s Upper Hudson River Valley, and our appointment with destiny. For several hours we swerved our way through the Berkshire Mountains against a backdrop of electrified foliage, of an intensity and spectrum only found in the undulating hills of rural New England, and only in the fleeting weeks of mid-autumn. The highway beneath our tires had been sprinkled liberally with a layer of large red, orange, and yellow maple leaves. The peak brightness of their colors had passed; and they had begun to fade and fall off of the trees; and this infused everything with a late-fall Halloween vibe, which only served to ramp up the anticipation we were feeling.
Our End is the Road
By the time we crossed the New York state line, I was feeling great: a solid beer buzz well underway, and a nice hash and sativa glaze on top of that to properly round off the head trip. I was really getting in the zone. We both were. We were getting psyched for the show.
It Was Late One Fall Night at a Venue Near Town
In and around the Fall of 1994, there were a lot worse places you could be stuck than outside a Phish show without a ticket. Once you put aside, if you could, the fact that you were outhere, and the show was happening in there, you could actually have a great time interfacing with the many other like-minded people sharing your fate.
Yeah, you could do that, sure. But we had bigger plans.
We arrived at the Glens Falls Civic Center just as it was getting dark. We split an eighth of powerful mushrooms, parked the car, and set off on foot to peruse the environs. For a while we tooled around the parking lot scene, talking to people, waiting for the shrooms to take hold, and keeping an ear to the ground for anyone with extra tickets. This was useless, though; and we knew it. There were so many people wandering around with their fingers in the air (that’s “I need a miracle”, in show-speak) that even if somebody had walked up waving a bunch of scalped tickets, the feeding frenzy of interested parties would have instantly driven the ticket price even further through the roof than it already was. We needed a better plan.
I Drifted Where the Current Chose
We walked away from the parking lot crowd just as the initial sparks of our psilocybin ride began to flare and pop. We quickly fell in and started drifting along with the prevailing current of humanity, which was carrying us towards the doors of the venue, where ticket-holders were streaming into the arena in droves. But as soon as we reached the ticket-takers, we were stopped in our tracks like pasta in a strainer. We’d have to do better than this if we expected to get anywhere. We retreated for a moment to re-assess.
Suddenly we heard the muffled roar of more than 6,000 screaming people, emanating from inside the building. This was followed a few seconds later by an indistinct and muddy cacophony that soon congealed in my pulsating consciousness as “Frankenstein”, by the Edgar Winter Group. Phish had taken the stage.
The Kids Storm the Hallway
Suddenly the crowd’s collective need to be inside the venue watching the show became palpable, and a kind of group mind-think set upon those there assembled. No one person was calling the shots; but nevertheless, moving as one cohesive organism, like a school of fish or a flock of birds- greater than the sum of its parts, the crowd swelled like a tidal wave and then hurled itself at the plexi-glass doors of the building’s main entrance, and the terrified staff members charged with defending it.
Soon to Let Me Drown Beneath the Undertow
The wave broke apart on impact like a schooner thrown against the rocky coastline of Vancouver Island, casting tripping hippie stoners this way and that, and knocking over several of the door wardens in the process. As the wave of humanity began to ebb, a portion of those on the offensive (and a handful of those trying to stop them) were unexpectedly pulled back to their feet by the insidious undertow of undulating bodies. For a few moments everyone was bumbling around out of control, thrown by the motion of the surging crowd, and knocking each other over in the chaos; but as the probing tendrils of the wave receded further back from the doors of the Civic Center, the crowd began to regroup.
We Didn’t Mean to Be Impolite, But We Just Couldn’t Wait
A few more undulating assaults of the front doors were made, during which we very nearly succeeded in steamrolling over everybody and laying the doors flat. But not quite. And soon security reinforcements arrived from another quarter; and in one fell swoop the wall of security had more than doubled its strength, as several new large dudes joined the defensive line. The jig was up.
You Can Trespass Anywhere
But there is always another jig. Dennis and I abandoned the front gate assault and made our way around to the back of the building, seeking for I don’t know what.
By now our heads were buzzing in an ungovernable frenzy of psychedelic electricity, brains humming as if we were laying in a field of cicadas on a hot mid-summer day. Visual images trailed behind my mental projection screen, lazily trying to keep pace with my geometrically expanding thoughts and sensations.
You’ll Never Get out of This Maze
The Glens Falls Civic Center is built into the side of a hill; and so at its northern corner, the distance from the ground to the roof is considerably less than the 70 vertical feet seen at the opposite corner, where two city streets intersect. Here it is more like 40 vertical feet. Of course, this seemingly mundane detail would be of no practical use were it not for the fact that the building’s air vents and excess heating ducts all protrude from the walls on this side, right at the spot where the ground-to-roof height is at its lowest.
We stared up at the grey, twisting, angular shapes of the metal ducts. Now, maybe it was the boomers talking; but damned if it didn’t look to me as if it might just be possible, with great effort and no small amount of risk, for a determined 21-year-old dude and his cohort to climb their way up to the roof from here, with the help of this hanging puzzle of stapled sheet metal.
Exactly what, if any, purpose would be served by our getting up onto the roof was not the least bit clear; but irrespective of that, this opportunity was here before us; and we must take it, whatever might befall.
And They Climbed, So Slowly
And so it was that, driven it seemed by some unseen guiding hand of fate, we climbed, leaped, and pulled our way up the overhanging ducts until we had gotten as high as we could get, which was unfortunately still about 15 feet short of the rim of the roof- not high enough for it to be within reach.
Damn. Now what? We stood there on the surface of the topmost metal duct, scratching our heads, tripping our faces off, and wondering what the hell our next move should be. Seeing my own breath billowing out before my eyes, like mist evaporating off the surface of a lake at the touch of direct morning sun, I noticed for the first time that it was getting pretty cold out.
The sound from inside the arena wafted through the air ducts, allowing us to hear more clearly what was going on inside. The band was in the middle of the triumphant guitar solo jam that leads into the coda of “Divided Sky”, one of my very favorite pieces of Phish music.
Damn, we’ve gotta get in there, I thought. The show is going on, with or without us.
And They Rose Above the People, and the Houses, and the Chimneys
Suddenly I looked down and saw the most improbably fortuitous thing ever: tucked behind one of the lower air ducts, out of sight from below, stood a wooden ladder, leaning against the wall of the building, and just barely within reach! Holy shit!The thing must have been stashed there by maintenance personnel, for when they need to access the roof and upper air ducts! We managed to get our hands on the ladder, hauled it up onto the duct, and leaned it against the side of the building.
The Darkness is Cold and Perception Goes Wrong…
As I heaved myself up onto the surface of the roof from the top of the ladder, my eyes were swimming with floating amoeba, and my head ringing with a throbbing array of noises, some of them randomly amplified to a great intensity, like a conversation picked up from across a crowded square by a long-range microphone.
As Dennis joined me on the roof, I noticed that there were people streaming up the ladder behind him- not event staff, just other would-be concert attendees. Soon there were some fifteen or twenty people standing around on the rooftop; but nobody had any clue what to do next.
… And the Night Seems to Go on Incredibly Long
The chilly evening air of late October had begun to grab our attention; but for the most part we just ignored it by sheer force of will. Some others, however, opted to wriggle awkwardly under the metal awnings of the protruding roof ducts, because there one could achieve a measure of warmth from the hot air spilling out of the vents, and also hear the concert better than they could from anywhere else on the roof.
For our own part, though, this wasn’t gonna work. Contorting our bodies to try to squeeze them into a giant metal birdcage was just not what we’d had in mind for our evening.
I’m Talking ‘Bout Shaft
Perusing the roof for any kind of lifeline to the inside of the venue, we came upon a closed hatch, about 3 ft x 3 ft. Kneeling on the roof for balance, we tugged at the hatch; and amazingly…it flipped right open! Boo-yah!
Peering over the edge of the open hatchway, we stared down into utter blackness. There was no way to tell what was even down there. The only clue was a slight draft blowing up through the hatch, the circular quality of which seemed to suggest a vast empty space (as opposed to, say, a darkened stairwell).
Suddenly the impenetrable blackness was partially broken by a thin band of yellowish-white light, which appeared to just spontaneously come into being far below. Then the band of light seemed to flicker a bit, then abruptly disappeared. Then it happened again. Suddenly I had it: we were looking down an elevator shaft. The strip of light we’d just seen was the elevator’s interior light, which, spilling up through the opening between the inner and outer doors, infused the otherwise pitch-black shaft with a tiny sliver of visibility for a few fleeting moments every time the elevator door opened.
Clips the Handle, Grasps the Cable
As our eyes began to adjust to the near-total darkness of the void below, indistinct shapes began slowly to take visible form, albeit very dimly. Suddenly we realized that we were looking at the upper mounting and counterweight pulley mechanism of the elevator that continued to rise and fall in the vertical tunnel below.
The cable wound around the pulley at a spot that was more or less within reach of the hatch opening; and, noticing this, some dude who had been peering down the shaft with us promptly declared “I’m going for it!”, and then without delay proceeded to climb down through the hatch opening and into the upper airs of the elevator shaft. Holding onto the lip of the hatch with one hand, and dangling over the black abyss, the dude swung his body hard in the direction of the hanging cable, and, in a stunning leap of faith, grabbed the cable out of the mid-air darkness and clamped his limbs tightly around it, like Donkey Kong Jr. on crack.
His Clumsy End Was Perilously Near
Nevertheless, my insides were in knots as I watched this wasted kid tripping on god knows what begin to shimmy and climb down the elevator cable. Meanwhile the elevator just continued to go about its business, drifting up and down from floor to floor. Down-climbing the cable, the crazy fuck soon disappeared into the darkness of the elevator shaft. I was terrified that he would get ripped in two by the elevator’s counterweight as it went whizzing on by. I wondered if he had even considered that. At any rate, I remember kneeling there with my head sticking through the hatch and thinking: “This is the kind of shit that turns festive occasions into the scenes of morbid tragedies. This is stupid. It’s just a fucking concert, for god’s sake. I don’t know if I can watch this any longer.” The cable creaked and rocked as it passed over the pulley. I had no idea how this guy was managing this feat- if in fact he even still was. For all any of us knew he was sprawled out flat as a pancake on the roof of the elevator with his vitals spilling out, like that guy in “Silence of the Lambs”- victim of his own overzealousness and poor judgment.
As these thoughts were rolling around in my head, I noticed once again that I could hear the show pretty clearly, this time through the elevator shaft. The band were in the middle of “Harpua”, another classic tune that only Phish could have conceived of, when suddenly they busted into “War Pigs”, by Black Sabbath, which immediately fueled speculation that the cover album of the night might in fact be Paranoid, the album from which this song hails. After a few moments, though, the band segued back into “Harpua”; and that was the last you heard of Black Sabbath all night.
He’s Sure Got Some Powerful Pills
Suddenly a square of bright white light blasted up through the shaft from some distance below, seizing our attention anew. As we gazed down at it, the light flickered momentarily, was briefly obscured by some intervening dark mass, and then returned to its previous intensity. A couple of seconds later the square of light was suddenly gone- vanished without a trace, as if it had never even been there at all; and total darkness once again enveloped the elevator shaft. I pondered this for a moment, and then was amazed.
Trying to Live a Life That’s Completely Free
He did it. The crazy lucky fuck actually did it. This little trick of the light that we had just witnessed was indeed the cable-shimmying psychopath flipping open the escape hatch in the top of the elevator car, jumping down into the elevator, and yanking the hatch shut behind himself to cover his tracks. Whatever became of him after that we never discovered; but after having watched him execute that unbelievable (and unbelievably stupid) feat of physical prowess and determination, I would like to imagine that he somehow made it all the way to the main room of the arena unseen, and there disappeared into the crowd, victorious.
We Struggled With Destiny Up on the Ledge
As soon as the escape hatch on top of the elevator slammed shut, we immediately became aware of a commotion growing behind us. We turned around to find the rooftop being bum-rushed by security personnel, who were streaming up onto the roof by way of the very same ladder that we had used to get up here.
I’m not sure exactly where we thought we were going; but we immediately jumped up and made for the far corner of the roof- away from the approaching venue personnel, as if they were likely to stop their pursuit if we simply moved far enough across the roof.
But actually, it kinda worked. When a small group of security folk more or less checkmated us in the south corner of the roof- the corner where it was a 70-foot drop to the concrete sidewalk below, Dennis shocked me and everyone else by suddenly taking things to a new level. “Keep back, or I’ll jump!!” he yelled at our pursuers, with googly, dilated eyes unblinking, that nobody was willing to risk calling a bluff on. “I swear I’ll do it! Get back!!” Holy shit. The icy stare in Dennis’s eyes made me wonder if he might be serious. Nahh.
Bouncing Gently ‘Round the Roof
At any rate, that did the trick. Maybe the security folk felt some measure of human compassion; or maybe it was simply that they were operating under some kind of mandate to avoid engaging in any behavior that might lead to a lawsuit against the venue. “Alright, alright, alright!! We’re moving back!! Just don’t jump!” shouted one of them, cautiously, gesticulating wildly for his cohorts to keep back as well. Whatever their underlying reasons, the security guys all pulled back and drew closer together, leaving us a path of escape from the sheer edge of the roof.
Tear the Roof off the Sucka
As we circled around them in a wide arc, we saw that some of the other would-be concertgoers on the roof had found a second hatch and flipped it open. Considering the fact that folks were simply streaming into the opening of the hatch one after the other, like a clown car in reverse, we surmised that the hatch must lead to something other than just a cavernous void of blackness, as the other one had. And noticing that the security personnel on the roof were not intervening in any way with the parade of wasted youths heading down the hatch, we decided to make for it ourselves.
There was no time to stop and consider the move- there was only one option. We hadn’t come this far just to give ourselves up to a bunch of glorified bouncers- that much was for sure.
… And View the Ritual From Within…
The ladder was one of those caged-in jobbies, like you see on the sides of huge industrial oil and water tanks, or at those huge, insidious factories of nebulous purpose, where the climaxes of Terminator-type movies always seem to take place. As soon as my head passed below the rim of the hatch, the world was instantly transformed, as if I had just stepped through a closet door into Narnia.
Am I Inside?
Suddenly I was looking straight down into the lights, sounds, and full-tilt commotion of the show. It was all happening far below my lofty position up amid the ceiling rafters (but hey, at least I was technically in the room– that felt like progress.) The band was in the middle of “Julius”, another tune that always gets the crowd totally jacked.
Were we really inside? Could we really have won? The room was swimming with blue and green lights, blending back and forth from one to the other, and rising and falling with the dynamics of the music.
Stuck in a Game of Dipstick Perfume
There was no time to stop and look around, though- there were still a few more people coming down the ladder from above my head, foremost of whom was Dennis. As I descended progressively deeper into the heart of the concert hall, the madness and euphoria infecting the room became increasingly palpable; and my own excitement increased in direct proportion to this. The ladder seemed to go on forever; but at some point in the descent I was able to see that it did indeed end, where it landed on a catwalk some feet below.
Police in the Corner, Gunning For You
Reaching the bottom of the ladder, I was immediately “greeted” by security and ushered, along with everybody else who had come down that ladder, along the catwalk towards the outer wall of the concert hall. As I walked across the catwalk, I noticed that the seats below, teeming with joyous revelers all going off as hard as they possibly could, were not really all that far beneath my feet. I also noticed that the closer we got to the outer wall, the more this divide between seats and catwalk closed. This was due to the fact that the stadium seating increases in height as you get further out from the stage, yet the catwalk maintains a consistent height off of the arena floor.
Just before being hustled out of the arena through a door in the wall, I looked up and back, and noticed that the last of the guards from the roof were now heading down the ladder, behind the last of the foiled revelers.
It’s Gonna Be Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold, Cold
Before you could say “Wash Uffizi drive me to Firenze”, we were once again back out in the cold darkness beyond the outermost wall of the party room, having just been ushered out the very same doors that we had participated in trying to crash through earlier on. It made sense now that the personnel on the roof had deemed it preferable to just channel the rogue concertgoers down a caged ladder into the arms of waiting security guards than to chase people around the roof and risk some shit-head falling (or jumping!) in his attempt to elude his pursuers.
As the foiled roof-folk were led out the doors, most dispersed into the night, some feeling satisfied that they had at least made a go of trying to penetrate the venue, and others, finally convinced of the utter hopelessness of the prospect of getting into the show- whether by force or guile- accepting that they had been bested by the security apparatus, and calling it a night.
Our Time is Near, The Mission’s Clear
But not me and Dennis- not even close. An impromptu huddle of two was quickly organized to plan our next move. Dennis observed aloud that there had been no repercussions for trying to break into the show- other than being escorted back outside. I noted that the personnel on the roof seemed to have all followed the last of the rogues down the ladder to the catwalk, and also that the uppermost seats in the hall were close enough to the bottom of the catwalk that it might just be possible to jump from the catwalk down into the crowd, and lose oneself immediately in the party- if we could just get back to that catwalk. The wheels were turning. This was not over.
We agreed that if by some odd chance one of us made it in successfully and the other one did not, the one who made it in could stay and enjoy the rest of the show, and deal with trying to track down the other one when it was over.
Sink a Boulder in the Water
It had been downright decent of security to leave the wooden ladder propped up on that air duct for us, leaning against the lip of the roof where we had left it on our first ascent.
We stepped back up onto the roof to find that we were now the only ones up there. Brilliant! It was as I had surmised: everybody on the roof must have come down the interior ladder during that mass eviction we had just been a part of. And most likely the event staff had considered that particular security breach to have been sufficiently neutralized as soon as we had all been channeled along the catwalk and out the doors of the building. With this in mind, Dennis and I now made straight for that very same hatch- the one with the ladder leading down from it, down into the very beating heart of the Glens Falls Civic Center.
And Through the Ceiling Door Intrude…
As we approached the roof hatch, I was half expecting that the last of the Civic Center personnel to come down the ladder had probably locked the hatch behind himself; but when we grabbed it and pulled, it flipped right open! Staring down the shaft of the ladder, we could see that there appeared to no longer be anybody on either the ladder or the catwalk. We looked at each other like soldiers about to storm into a hostile warzone, and gave a mutual nod of respect and understanding, which basically said: “You know what to do, man. See you on the other side.” With that I climbed into the hatch and started down the ladder for the second time, with Dennis hot on my tail.
Invaded Through What Was an Unguarded Seam
I touched down onto the catwalk and made for the outer wall straightaway; though I had no intention of actually reaching the wall. Rather, the objective was to get to the nearest spot along the catwalk from which I could jump down into the seating area without breaking a leg or killing anybody. The fact that doing this would require us to initially proceed directly towards the posted watchman standing at the doorway where the catwalk met the wall of the concert hall was most definitely not ideal; but there was no other way; and anyway, I was ready to chew off the arm of anyone who seized or in any other way attempted to stop me.
Getting in Barely, Through Alternate Paths
I was driven in part by my time-tested conviction that my friend Jeff was down there on the concert floor, right in the front row, directly in front of Trey. He had to be, I reasoned, because he always was; and I knew that he was quite simply not up for not being in that spot; and I knew that he would stop at nothing to ensure that he got that spot, no matter who he had to go toe-to-toe with to get it. And I was damned if my march towards the stage was going to be foiled before I reached him.
Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, Run, Run
Now that we were the only ones on it, the catwalk seemed a lot longer than it had earlier. The distance from the ladder to the wall seemed interminable. If the security dude standing by the door at the end of the catwalk so much as glanced in our direction, all of our tireless efforts would immediately come to utter ruin. We had until he did that, which was liable to happen at any moment, to get ourselves to a spot from which we could “safely” jump. The race was on.
With Dennis breathing down my neck, I raced across the catwalk at a full sprint, like I was running for my life. The lights, sounds, and electricity of the show were raging all around us, made that much more intense by a) the mushroom ride that we were on (which was experiencing a surge in intensity due to the adrenaline rush), and b) the fact that just beneath our feet close to 6,000 people were all going off-the-hook, screaming along with the row-row-row-your-boat-esque out-chorus to “Silent in the Morning”.
We Wasn’t Quite the Speed of Light
We were just a few feet from where we needed to get to, when the guy turned around and saw us. Hollering for backup, which materialized instantaneously, he sprang towards us. We stopped in our tracks. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck!!. There was a nano-moment of indecision, followed by reflexive action. Instinctively, we both hopped over the railings of the catwalk, on opposite sides. We were still on the catwalk- only now outside the railing, which meant we were still within easy grasp of any event staff trying to get a hand on us. The henchmen were bearing down on us. I climbed down the railing and swung myself out to the underside of the catwalk, holding on to the bottom of it with my hands. Dennis did the same, though we were each now beyond the other’s help. Our fates would be determined individually, whether or not were destined to be split up, throwing high-fives in a crowd of thousands, or sharing a paddy-wagon five minutes from now.
Swinging on the Lifeline
I looked down. Directly beneath me was an aisle of cement steps, like you see in the grandstands at a baseball game. But I was uncomfortable with how far down it was- there must have been a good eight to ten feet of open space separating the bottoms of my shoes from the stairs below. Clinging to the bottom of the catwalk with both hands, hanging there and swinging back and forth, I tried to gauge the likelihood of a non-catastrophic landing, were I to let go now. I’d been really hoping to make it a few more feet closer to the wall before jumping from the catwalk. The aisle below was jammed with Phish-heads- some on the move, others just spilling out of their rows and into the aisle, all raging their asses off like never before.
Suddenly my right forearm was seized by a large, very strong hand, which immediately started trying to haul me back up onto the catwalk. Holy fuck- it’s NOW! With my left hand, I let go of the catwalk.
Left Hanging by a Thread
For a few moments I was just dangling there, suspended by only my right forearm, above a floor full of screaming Phishheads who I was dead-bent on joining. The guy holding onto my arm had been caught at unawares by the sudden doubling of my bodyweight when I’d let go of the catwalk; and here he very nearly let me slip through his fingers. Attempting to capitalize on this mistake before the musclebound oaf could re-assert his grasp, I writhed violently, deliberately and desperately- even trying to push off of the bottom of the catwalk to release myself. But somehow the dude managed to retighten his hold on me, now holding on even more firmly than before. Fuck!!What- do these guys get cash bonuses for catching people trying to sneak in?Do they get a fingertip cut off every time somebody gets past them? I mean, I knew what the stakes were for me; but what did Foolio have invested in this? What was his incentive? I’ll tell you this much- something beyond an hourly wage was motivating this guy.
I squirmed and swung and did everything I could do to try and break free of his vice-like grip; but the man was on a mission to stop me.
Will I Plunge In and Join Them There?
But I was on a mission too: a mission to not be stopped by him. There would be no stalemate. The skin on my forearm was burning from the friction as the guy desperately tried to hold on and pull me back up onto the catwalk. I wriggled and twisted with everything I had, trying anything and everything I could think of to wrest myself from his grasp, or to cause him to fumble; but my options were pretty limited under the circumstances. The dude was frantically looking back and forth between me and his fellow security-meisters, screaming for additional support as he tried to get ahold of me with his other hand. If he succeeded, it was all over for me.
And He Began to Tumble Earthward…
Looking up, I saw a second security guy crouching down on the floor of the catwalk and reaching out for my arm. I looked down again. Nobody below seemed to be aware of me- which meant that nobody was getting out of the way. I looked up again. Just as the second guy brushed the skin of my arm with his fingers, the first guy ran out of steam. Unable to maintain his grasp any longer, his grip failed, and he released my arm. I was still looking up at him as the bottom of the catwalk began to fly up and away from me. I was in free fall.
Surrender to the Air
Though no such atmospheric phenomena had been forecast for the area by any local meteorologists, it nevertheless did in fact, for a few brief seconds on the night of October 31, 1994, rain human bodies inside the Glens Falls Civic Center in upstate New York. Even more bizarrely, the storm seems to have been hyper-localized to a very small region, specifically the stairway aisle separating stadium section U from stadium section V, and roughly between rows 7 and 12.
The brief downpour caught the affected folk completely at unawares, due to the lack of lightning, thunder, or any of the other typical atmospheric cues that usually portend the imminent arrival of a storm. It should be stated for the record, however, that according to authorities, in the moments immediately preceding the onset of the deluge, unaccountably, the air inside the auditorium had in fact been bristling with a highly-charged electricity, an electricity felt by all in attendance, even the security hench-folk who, grumbling bitterly at the chilling specter of young people having fun and enjoying music, tried to snuff out as much of the good times as they could- which wasn’t much.
We Come Unglued While in Midair, and Land to Reform…
According to witnesses, immediately following the end of the song “Silent in the Morning”, first one, and then another, full-grown male quite literally fell from the sky, landing awkwardly in the area specified above. Despite the fact that no precautionary measures had been taken, nor any advisories disseminated to the local population, there were, amazingly, no reported injuries of any kind, save for a mild case of friction burn on the arm of one of the men who had allegedly come raining down from on high.
Due to the virtually 100% non-absorptive properties of the concrete steps which bore the brunt of the storm, there was no subsequent flooding. Rather, the two men who splashed down were immediately washed down the stairs and over the railing into the general admission floor seating area. The case has never been solved.
Come Stumble, My Earth-Eating Lurkers
Due to the suddenness of my fall, as well as the fact that I had been looking up at the moment it began, I had been unable to properly brace myself for impact; and so I struck the concrete stairs hard, and at an odd angle, consequently falling off balance and collapsing violently into the arms of some burnt dude who was in the middle of going shit-house with euphoria in one of the adjacent aisle seats. We have to stop meeting like this. Although my arrival in his personal space was profoundly unexpected, and exceedingly unmellow (he couldn’t have been faulted for punching me in the face), rather than get angry or defensive, or shove me or anything like that, the guy, after overcoming his initial shock and grasping, all in one fluid moment, the reality of what had just happened in his lap, helped me to my feet and promptly reared back to throw me the mother of all high-fives.
At this exact moment, Phish busted into “Reba”, which has always been my favorite song of theirs. I took this as a positive sign.
It Was an Angry Mob of Bouncers, Coming Up to Knock Us Down
As this was happening, I looked up to see Dennis collecting and dusting himself off, just a few feet away, a couple of steps higher than where I stood. Against all reasonable expectations, we had both landed essentially unscathed. We were both so shocked and amazed, that we could barely figure out what to do next- standing in place and looking this way and that frantically, as if besieged by assailants on all sides. Just then a burst of vigorous applause and loud cheering erupted all around us, as the folks in the immediate vicinity came to grasp the finer points of just how our arrival on the scene had been affected.
That was pretty cool; but there was no time to stand around taking bows. We looked up to see a couple of burly men in uniforms barreling down the steps towards us, bent on capturing these two irreverent rogues who had just come rudely crashing through the ceiling of the arena, then evaded all attempts to apprehend them, and in so doing made a complete mockery of the security establishment.
I Begin My Descent Down the Cold Granite Steps
Seeing these two aspiring bullies bearing down on us snapped us both out of our temporary state of dumbfounded amazement and back to active consciousness- and just in time, too. The two of us immediately turned tail and took off at full speed down the stairs of the aisle, with the two security dudes hot on our heels. Upon reaching the bottommost row, rather than stop and give ourselves over to our chasers, we both just kept going, instinctively diving over the 4-foot-high hockey rink boards which separated the stadium seats from the general admission section. In hurling ourselves across this threshold, we in effect crossed the finish line of our race against non-ticketholder-hood.
The two security goons did not follow us over the barrier, but rather seemed to just kind of spin out in a cloud of proverbial dust, like Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane at the Hazzard County line. They seemed to pretty quickly lose sight of us amidst all of the scattering darkness, panning colored lights, and overall pandemonium whirling about the scene. Seizing the opportunity to end this once and for all, Dennis and I quickly disappeared into the thick of the crowd, losing ourselves to these uniformed fools- forgood.
We’d made it. We were fucking in.
We’re Bobbing on the Surface
For the next fifteen minutes, the jagged, disjointed awesomeness of what has since come to be widely hailed by Phish fans as the quintessential performance of “Reba” provided the soundtrack to our determined battle to make our way up to the front to join our friends. It was a pain in the ass to try to maneuver through a jam-packed crowd of over 1,000 standing, jumping, screaming concertgoers; but we were too jacked to get bogged down in any of that. Our grins were eight miles wide, and our eyes practically flying off of our heads, from the excitement we felt in those moments. Just as the Zappa-esque jam section in the latter half of the song wrapped up, we finally busted through the last of the crowd, plowing our way rudely through an incredibly dense, pulsating mob of wasted freaks, many of whom were dressed in bizarre and hilarious Halloween costumes, straight up to the front row right in front of Trey (my standard field position in that era), and there surprised the shit out of Jeff, his brother, and his sister, none of whom had given any serious consideration to the thought that Dennis and I might actually end up inside the arena that night, no less front and center.
Just to Check My Status
After “Reba”, the band issued a super-charged version of “Golgi Apparatus” to close their first set of the night. We had achieved our goal, and just in time for the second set, the featured set of the night (though, it must be said, in those days virtually every live Phish set was a momentous occasion, as well as a potential jumping off point for any imaginable innovative and ground-breaking on-stage live creations, and even some not imaginable). The band would play two more sets tonight; and the one coming up next was the one where they were expected to blow everybody away by covering an entire classic album, which still nobody knew for sure what would be.
We spent the break getting jacked for the upcoming set, and telling our crew the story of how we had gotten into the show.
A little less than a half an hour later, the lights went down; and the place went shit-house all over again. For a lot of people (myself and my gang included), this promised to be quite likely the most memorable Phish set we’d ever seen; and we’d seen a lot of them over the preceding few years.
Didn’t Get to Bed Last Night
When the band took the stage, the sound of those slowly-thumping heartbeat drums that open Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon came over the P.A. system; and so everyone started screaming in jubilation that they were gonna play Dark Side. But that was not to be. The Floyd thing was just a tease. I seem to also remember Trey baiting the crowd with the distinctive opening harmonics and guitar lick to Yes’s “Roundabout”, which opens that band’s epic 1972 album Fragile. But that was just a fleeting mind-fuck as well.
Then, one of music history’s most recognizable sound-bites was heard: Ed Sullivan introducing The Beatles to America for the first time, on February 9, 1964. A collective deep-breath raced through the crowd; and a moment later, Phish ripped into “Back in the U.S.S.R.”. The night’s musical costume would be The Beatles’ White Album, which was about as good a choice as they could have made; and for the next 90 or so minutes, Phish delivered the goods, plowing their way through one of the most classic and beloved records in rock history, and to an over-the-moon crowd. I got chewed out several times for screaming lyrics in people’s ears; but that’s just how you know it’s a party.
Confuse What You Can of the Ending
When they were done with their “musical costume”, the band left the stage for a second break, and came back a little while later to blaze through another set of their own music. With the third set, the band carved off another fat-ass slab of epic-ness; and after that they returned to the stage for an encore, which included a contest to determine which fan in attendance had the best Halloween costume. All eight finalists had costumes that referenced, in one way or another, songs from Phish’s catalog. First prize went to some guy dressed as a Mounds Candy Bar, a nod to the song “Mound”.
Time for the Last Rewind
After the show, the immediate vicinity of the Glens Falls Civic Center was ablaze with festive jubilation and extreme energy, as thousands of fans streamed out into the cold November night. Also, as if we needed another reason to celebrate, Dennis had turned twenty years old at the stroke of midnight; so it was a no-holds-barred rage-a-thon on a multitude of levels.
I don’t know how we got out of that town alive; but somehow we managed to dodge every last cop in the area; and in no time flat we were rolling down a rural highway with the upper Hudson River on our right, cheerfully reflecting back up at us the twinkling lights of the houses across the water. Cruising back to Amherst through the predawn hours, Dennis and I wondered if years down the line we would look back on this night as a standout among the peak moments of our lives, or if in the long run it would not seem all that significant to us.
Well I can tell you, sitting here at my computer twenty years later, that Halloween 1994 still stands out vividly and proudly as one of the most exciting nights of my life (thus far). The concert, and the epic lengths we went to to ensure that we did not miss it, are burned into my memory, and cannot be taken away. We were in our prime. We felt unstoppable; and in fact we were unstoppable, in our own way. And that feeling of being unstoppable is one that tends to be all too fleeting, and increasingly rare as one’s years go by. For all that, though, and even in a way because of it, over time, nights like that Halloween in Glens Falls, NY assume an increasingly valuable place in our minds; and hopefully never fade completely.
And So to Bed
We got back home to Amherst just as the dawn was closing in. With the sky in a slow fade from solid black to deep purple, I laid my head down and went to sleep. Diagonal in my bed.
About the author:
Deek Speredelozzi went to over 100 Phish shows between 1988 and 1998; and still goes to shows occasionally. Since 1997 he has lived in Northern California, most of that time in San Francisco, where he now lives with his wife, dog, and two cats. He is a student and a writer, and an outspoken critic of all things civilized. Nowadays, he usually uses the door.
I stand outside the Rav 4, in the parking lot for Lake Louise and the Saddleback Trail- my trail to the summit of Fairview Mountain-, eating a hastily-assembled tuna-melt, and mixing up another bottle full of icy lemonade. My wife tinkers with the bear spray canister, eager to confirm its functionality, and that I know how to use it. I pick it up and investigate, peering intently into the barrel while being extremely careful not to unlock the trigger. I think of the time ten years ago when, while fidgeting with an ex-girlfriend’s protective Mace spray, I inadvertently painted my face with red-hot-pepper-optical agony, for no good reason at all. The orientation of the trigger mechanism appeared sort of backwards from what I would have expected; so I misjudged the device entirely and blasted my grill. I guess this is how idiots with real guns manage to take their own heads off while cleaning their weapons. Anyway, I never made that mistake again with the Mace; and I wasn’t about to make it with bear spray either.
I demonstrate to my wife’s satisfaction that I know how to correctly aim and administer a cone of eyeball-busting hellfire, should the need arise; though I don’t actually pull the trigger- everything but. It’s not really a very good idea to deploy a canister of bear-spray for any reason other than you are under real and present threat from an actual charging bear.
I take only essential gear: A Twix, a Snickers Bar, a bottle full of bone-chillingly cold lemonade, a camera (with extra battery), a weak-but-sufficient trail map, a fleece shirt, and a windbreaker.
Before I begin my ascent, I take a walk down to check out the lake with Katherine and Peanut. A 90-second walk through a heavily wooded area ends with the shockingly-abrupt unveiling of a lakescape of the highest order. Completely hidden from view when you’re in the parking lot, Lake Louise demands, captures, and holds your attention effortlessly once you’re standing by its shores.
Viewed from its northeastern end- the “developed” end-, Lake Louise appears as a bed of implausibly green glacial melt-water, framed gorgeously by the long, deep, and towering V-shaped canyon that abuts its southwestern end. The lake’s emerald radiance (often referred to as “glacial milk”) is attributable to the abundant inflow of what is called “rock flour”- essentially just silt-sized particles of limestone that has been methodically ground down to a virtual powder by the mighty and ceaseless forces of erosion and bedrock grinding that are nature’s process way up here on the continental crest, where the great tectonic plates of the Pacific Ring of Fire ply their trade, wrestling with one another for dominance. Particles of rock flour are typically so small that they don’t even get pulled downward by gravity to settle at the bottom of the lake, but are instead suspended in the water, clouding it up and infusing it with its famously green hue.
We gaze out at hundreds of red kayaks, which lay like slices of red bell pepper all across the glistening surface of the lake. Hundreds of tourists crowd the scenic area at the end of the lake where we are standing. In the less than five minutes that we’ve been standing here, I’ve heard at least five languages being spoken. A Swiss-looking couple wanders past, the woman quizzing the man in some eastern-European-sounding tongue. A large extended family of Indian descent muscles in on our spot, seeking for an appropriately scenic backdrop for their imminent family picture. I step aside accommodatingly, then offer to take the photo, so the patriarch/cheerleader of the family can be in it, too. He’s happy to oblige, though somewhat overly-insistent on subjecting me to a tutorial on the proper procedure for using a basic point-and-shoot camera. I tolerate his unnecessary tutelage, and take a photo that will doubtless find distribution and prominent placement for years to come on mantelpieces from here to Sri Lanka.
Looking southwest across the lake, I see, from the right, Mount St. Piran, Mount Niblock, and Mount Whyte, a trio of great peaks that are the first three in a great horseshoe of nine or so towering rock pigs that half-encircle the business end of Lake Louise. Straight ahead and about four miles away looms Mount Victoria, at 11,365 feet the highest peak of those that look down upon the shimmering emerald waters of Lake Louise, a lake named for the fourth daughter of Britain’s beloved Queen Victoria, for whom Mount Victoria was named. It’s a family affair, y’see. Hanging from the upper reaches of Mount Victoria is the Victoria Glacier, which breaks and crumbles its way down the Plain of Six Glaciers to eventually dump its ice and silt into Lake Louise, which sits at 5,740 feet above sea level. To the left of Mount Victoria stands Mount Lefroy; and in front of it hangs the Lefroy Glacier, from which comes most of Lake Louise’s melt-water. Set back in a deep recessed canyon, the Lefroy Glacier, as well as the three peaks of Mount Aberdeen, Haddo Peak, and Sheol Mountain, are all hidden from me by an intervening mass of shale and limestone lurching skyward from the lake’s southern shore. This intervening mass is Fairview Mountain; and it is upon its uppermost pinnacle that I aim to stand, before the end of the day.
Better get movin’ then, being that it’s almost 5:30 PM now. I establish an 8:30 PM pre-set turnaround time with my wife, which is always a good idea when starting a hike so late in the day- especially a grueling climb such as this one, and super–especially when an aggro grizzly is known to be active in the vicinity.
I kiss my wife; and tell her to expect me most likely before 8:30, though not to panic until I haven’t returned by 10 PM. Even then, it’ll still be light out, we’re so goddamn far north; but it’d be nice to have time to find camping before the headlamps have to come out. Like I said- it’s only a 7-mile roundtrip; and even with a 3,300-foot elevation gain, I trust my body and mind to carry me quickly up this trail, and without incident.
It had been a long day of driving. Or at least my wife thought so. Personally, for my money, there could be nothing long, or in any way problematic, about eight hours spent tooling around the Canadian Rockies– especially, coming as it did, hot on the heels of a lifetime spent itching to get up here. So to me, the day we had just spent driving from Alberta’s Banff National Park (arguably the crown jewel of the Canockies) to and through British Columbia’s Kootenay and Yoho National Parks, and then back over the continental divide and into Banff once again, was about the best way you could spend a cycle of the sun in the car. I mean- she dug it, too- don’t get me wrong; it’s just that Katherine, like most folks I know, has a much lower threshold for pull-offs, scenic-overlooks, short day-hikes, and waiting around by the railroad tracks for a train to come along, than, say, I do. So, when she (and the proverbial they) are like “Okay, this is undeniably bad-ass; but how many more glacially-carved prominences can I look at before my system for appreciating them is utterly flooded and thus temporarily incapacitated”, I’m always Joe Counterpoint, saying “But this next stop is the spot I’m most jacked to see in this whole area!” And it usually works.
And so it was that, as we approached the fabled Lake Louise around 4:30 PM, Katherine announced that she had no plans to do any more hiking that day. This was actually fine with me; because despite having done a bunch of short, painless hikes throughout the earlier part of the day, I had yet to really carve out a route befitting a seasoned mountain man, since we’d crossed the border from Montana a day earlier. And the type of hike I was gunning for at this point was the kind that no dude could ever bring his wife or girlfriend on and expect to still have that person as a significant other afterwards. Plus, it’s not like she was trying to stop me from hiking or anything- she just didn’t want to go on a hike at this time. My wife, an avid backpacker herself (case in point: her second backpacking trip ever was a through-hike of the 200-plus-mile John Muir Trail in 2005, with me and another friend), is definitely not one to stand in the way of her man and his near-biological imperative to run up and down rocky crags whenever possible. In fact, I dare say that that’s one of a handful of things that she loves about me- in a way. I’ve had some girlfriends in the past who would try to stop me from going on hikes; but they’re all exes now, every last one.
“So now then…”, thought I, pulling our rented Rav 4 into the Lake Louise Visitor’s Center area, “How best to punish myself among the heights of this endless spine of earthen teeth- granite incisors violently hewn and meticulously sharpened against ancient glaciers in ages long past, that poke and pierce the sky all up and down the continental crest?”
Inside the visitor’s center a few minutes later, I got my answer. When my questions about nearby trail options quickly proved too probing for the frumpy, uninspired gal working the info desk, she grabbed a co-worker to help me. Now this new rangerette/kindred spirit was just the person I was looking for, as attested to by her demeanor, which suggested that she’d been all day long chomping at the bit to give somebody trail advice. Seeming to understand implicitly that I wasn’t looking for just some touristy fluff-walk , but a challenging hike that would pay out substantial scenic dividends, she recommended, without any flip-flopping, Fairview Mountain, one of the many lofty peaks in the immediate vicinity. This particular one rises steeply and vertiginously out of the waters off of Lake Louise’s southern shoreline, and taps the firmament more than 3,300 feet overhead. 3,300 vertical feet over just under three and a half miles. That sounds like something I could get into.
“Okay, I might as well get to it, then”, I announced, thanking the rangerette and turning to go.
“You’re not planning to go up there today, are you?”, she asked, a tone of cautious reservation barely concealed.
“Yeah, why?”, I countered. She went on to point out the hour (it was just before 5 PM, Mountain Standard Time), and also explain about an aggressive grizzly bear (possibly not alone) who had been frequenting, of late, the area into which I was about to head. And reportedly this grizzly had been particularly active around dusk and in the evenings. I pondered this for a moment.
“Okay, I guess I’ll pick up some bear spray at the store before I hit the trail. And don’t worry- I hike very fast. You won’t be having to send anybody up there to look for me.” She seemed sufficiently reassured.
You’ve heard of the Gulf Stream, right? You know- that river of warm ocean water that originates where the tip of Florida meets the warm waters of the Caribbean, and is then driven northward along the east coast, warming its beaches and creating thousands of miles of recreational summer coastline?
Well honey, it’s not one of those.
A meteorological counterpoint to the Gulf Stream can be found in the California Current, a wide river of icy arctic water that is channeled southward along the West Coast of North America, rendering most of its beaches, while indescribably gorgeous, places of recreationally-prohibitive water coldness. But don’t take my word for it- some roasting hot day, pay a visit to any beach along the upper two thirds of the California Coast, and notice how there are thousands of people on the sand, and only a handful in the water- and most of those in wetsuits, to protect them from hypothermia.
However, as much of a buzz-kill as this icy Pacific Ocean water situation is to would-be wave-frolicking beach-goers, there are a few spots where workarounds can be achieved. Probably the best example in California is the inner coastline of Point Reyes National Seashore.
The peninsula of Point Reyes, which juts southwestward off of the (southeastward-trending) coast of Marin County, creates what is in effect a 12-mile-long natural breakwater, deflecting the chill California Current out and away from the coastline for a stretch. The primary upshot of this is that the beaches in the shielded area have water that is far less cold than is the norm for the Pacific Ocean at this latitude. Sometimes you can even get in it and hang out in relative comfort for a little bit; whereas a standard, everyday wade into the Pacific in Northern California comes complete with numb, buckling ankles and rapidly-slowing bloodflow within a minute of immersion (a truly hazardous, not to mention unsustainable, situation).
Adding to the allure of the inner coastline of Point Reyes is Alamere Falls, one of only two waterfalls in North America that dump directly into the ocean (these are called “tidefalls“), the other being McWay Falls, in Julia Pfeiffer-Burns State Park, a couple hundred miles further south, along the Big Sur Coast. The shortest and simplest way to reach Alamere Falls is via an 8.5-mile round trip hike north out of the Palomarin Trailhead in Bolinas, CA, at the southernmost coastal extreme of Point Reyes National Seashore.
The hike also passes by Bass Lake, one of very few lakes in the state that sit so close to the ocean (less than half a mile). Bass Lake is a perfect place to hang out and go swimming; and there is even a killer rope swing there. Yesterday there were about 100 young sexy people parked around the lake, sunbathing, swimming, and generally just frolicking. And for some reason that I cannot explain, in light of the ongoing extended statewide drought, Alamere Falls was flowing healthily, spilling its waters over a mossy ledge, in horsetail formation, onto Wildcat Beach.
The Bass Lake/Alamere Falls/ Wildcat Beach hike is easily one of Northern California’s biggest bang-for-your-effort-buck dayhikes; and for the next couple months, the weather along the Point Reyes coast promises to be consistently dry, with clear sunny skies.