Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gothics, Armstrong, Upper Wolfjaw. 2010-11-13

Why Gothics?
During last weekend's hike, to McKenzie and Moose, the trail conditions didn't require the use of my recently purchased Trail Crampons. I wanted to test them so I needed to hike a steeper peak. Gothics fit the bill because its trails are steep and, the last time I hiked it, there were no views. With good weather forecasted, everything fell into place.

Rich with choices
There's more than one route to Gothics but, practically speaking, it's a choice between starting at the AMR (Adirondack Mountain Reserve) in St. Huberts or The Gardens in Keene Valley. The Johns Brook trail from The Gardens and the AMR's Lake Road are equally treadmill-like. I chose the Lake Road because I felt I'd experience more direct sunshine on Gothics' eastern side. I planned to ascend via the Alfred E. Weld trail, over Pyramid, and descend via the Beaver Meadow Falls trail. However, it was such a spectacular day, I traversed Armstrong and Upper WolfJaws and then descended via the Wedge Brook and West River trails. 

The long and winding road
The Lake Road stretches 3.3 miles and rises 700' from the AMR's rustic gate to the dam at Lower Ausable Lake. Some people find it long and dull (road-walking) but, at the very least, it serves as a great warm up exercise before tackling the peaks. At a brisk pace, you're at the end of the road in an hour and at the start of trails that lead to Blake, Sawteeth, and Gothics.

The road bed was frozen and covered with an inch or two of icy snow. By day's end, much of it would melt and expose a firm, sandy surface. I parked at the start of Ausable Road with three other cars in the lot (upon my return there'd be many more). I walked up Ausable road and spotted deer grazing on the AMR's golf course. At 7:30 AM, I signed in at the trailhead and headed out along the Lake Road.

The sun had risen but was still below the peaks; the air was still and cold. Half-way along the road I experienced foot-numbness and lower calf pain. Fortunately, these little gremlins disappeared when I reached the start of the Weld trail.

Up the storied mountain
When I reached the Weld trail, the morning sun had crested the peaks and bathed Lower Ausable lake in warm sunshine. The start of the trail was snow-free and even muddy in spots. However, this changed with altitude and became a packed base of corn snow. However, unlike McKenzie and Moose the previous weekend, the trees were completely snow-free.

Rainbow Falls.
This trail climbs steadily, passes a lookout onto Rainbow Falls (sign says: "Please stay away from the edge. Don't be a drop out."), and takes advantage of the terrain to provide a very pleasant ascent. The real climbing begins shortly before the col between Sawteeth and Pyramid and especially from the col to Pyramid's summit. The ascent to the col proved that softshell pants, so cozy on the Lake Road, were overkill. I wished I had packed shorts! Rolling up the pants and unzipping the pockets made them more comfortable. There were a few steep pitches, where I probably should've donned my Trail Crampons, but I was making good progress in bare-boots.

Upper Great Range viewed from Pyramid Peak.
I stopped for a few minutes atop Pyramid and marvelled at my good luck. Windless and warm, it felt more like April than November. Pyramid's up-close views of the Range are unparalleled. The steep-sided col between Pyramid and Gothics convinced me it was time to put on Trail Crampons. Descending the first forty feet of steep snow put a grin on my face; I'm gonna have fun with these things! The col looked like it'd be a struggle but it took all of 15 minutes to traverse.

At 11:05 AM, I removed my Trail Crampons and planted myself on Gothics' exposed rocky summit. The Range extended away in both directions but the string of peaks leading to Marcy were the most appealing. It was tempting to explore Saddleback and Basin but the long return trip, to St. Huberts, extinguished that thought. It was such an exceptional day that I wished I could spend it entirely on the summit. However, I didn't want to descend by headlamp so, after an hour of relaxation and chatting with other hikers (seven in total), I headed towards Armstrong.

A chink in one's armour
Here's simple advice, avoid landing on your kneecap! I was trying to be kind to my new Trail Crampons and avoided walking on rock. On the summit of Gothics, I stepped in a wide crack filled with snow. What I thought was packed snow proved to be fluffy drift snow. In a heartbeat, my left leg sunk through it until my right knee landed squarely on rock. The pain was intense and the first few steps confirmed I needed to stop and assess the damage. My kneecap was scraped and sore but, fortunately, my knee joint was fine.

The remainder of the hike involved far more challenging terrain that negotiated without incident. Had I had poles in hand, I might have arrested my fall into the crack and spared my kneecap. However, this was the first step after donning the crampons. Talk about finding a chink in one's armour! Hours later, at home, I iced it and it felt better the following day; bruising and tenderness are the only souvenirs.

Slip slidin' away
The trail over Armstrong and Upper WolfJaws consisted of ups and downs combined with great views and spring-like conditions; hiking it was a real pleasure. However, there were a few steep sections where my Trail Crampons, and hiking poles, were invaluable. I discovered the limits of my tractions aids when I tried side-stepping down a steep rock-face covered in a half-inch of ice. The ice shattered, the crampons dislodged, and the rock-face tatooed my uphill leg with road-rash. Lesson learned; next time, try 'French technique'.

A rustic luge run?
Many hikers I met wore some sort of tractions aids (Microspikes, full crampons, etc) but a few had none. You can certainly try bushwhacking around the steeps, use trees as handholds, or slide on your butt. However, these techniques, repeated by many hikers, can ruin a trail. Watching hikers butt-slide reminded me of a Zamboni machine polishing an ice rink. After a few passes, the trail becomes an icy chute and far more dangerous than if traction aids were employed.

All's well that ends well
At one of the trail junctions, I discovered a softshell jacket hanging on a trail sign. Had it been found by someone and left there, in a visible location, or did its owner leave it to be retrieved upon descent? If I pack it out and leave it at the trailhead in St. Huberts, will the owner exit via the same trailhead? If I take it home and post its discovery here, what are the chances its owner frequents this forum? I chose to leave it be. Between Pyramid and the jacket's location, I met eight hikers who were likely owners. I figured, if it was important to them, they'd come back for it.

When I signed out at the trailhead, I met a hiker I had spoken to earlier and he was wearing the jacket. He had forgotten it during a rest stop, someone else hung it up on the sign, and he retrieved it after descending Armstrong. Sometimes you get to see how the story ends. 

The road home
The descent via the White and West River trails, like the end of many hikes, seemed a little longer than anticipated. The White trail's snow cover diminished as I descended. About halfway down, I removed and stowed the Trail Crampons. The West River trail is snow-free and wends its way high above the East Branch Ausable River. I crossed over the Canyon bridge (a remarkable example of bridge construction) and, before long, I was back on the Lake Road. I signed out at 4:35 PM. Over the course of the day I covered about twelve miles and saw twenty-two other hikers. The weather was exceptionally good, the views were superb, and I only suffered a dinged kneecap and some road-rash. Yet another great day in the 'Dacks.

Lake Road, AMR Gate.


See all photos.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

McKenzie and Moose

After reading Spencer Morrissey's "The Other 54", I was intrigued by the re-opened Shore Owners Association (SOA) trails west of Mirror Lake (Lake Placid, NY). My outdated (early 90's) ADK guidebook indicated these trails had fallen into disrepair and were difficult to follow. However, over a period of years, they were re-opened by a dedicated individual (Richard Hayes Phillips) and, based on other trip reports, are now a pleasure to hike. After several weeks of preemptions by rotten weather (and life's many priorities) the forecast for Sunday, November 7th was "Partly Sunny". Good enough! Next stop, McKenzie and Moose.

No Trespassing
The first obstacle I encountered is in the parking area at the end of Chipmunk Lane. A chain is suspended across the stairs, leading to the Lake Trail, and it bears a "No Trespassing" sign. I followed the "Camp Colburn" road and eventually found a means to get to the Lake Trail that, more or less, did not involve crossing someone's front lawn.

NOTE: Chipmunk Lane is closed to hikers; a re-route is available. As of 2013, park on Whiteface Inn Lane and walk the length of  Blodgett Way (first road west of Chipmunk Lane) to the private gate where a marked route goes left and uphill. It bypasses the lakeside houses and then descends to the Lake Trail.

Ritzy Cottages
The Lake Trail is very easy to follow and passes by several very impressive vacation homes complete with matching boathouses. There's no 'roughing it' here.

Don't wear antlers
I knew it was hunting season so I wore a bright yellow hat and my yellow pack (I don't own an orange safety vest). Shortly before the junction I met a hunter looking for deer. I must admit it was a new, and unsettling, experience to meet someone on a hiking trail armed with a rifle.

Snowshoes Not Required (yet)
The ground was frozen and snow-free along the lake and up to the trail junction for McKenzie and Moose. However, most of the Bartlett Pond trail to McKenzie, the Wadsworth trail over to Moose, and the Two Brooks trail down from Moose, are covered with a hard-packed base and a top-layer of dry, settled, crystalline snow. The depth of the top-layer varied from two to six inches.

High Stepping
The Wadsworth trail (between McKenzie and Moose) had the deepest snow cover and my boots sank four to six inches. Although hardly 'post-holing', it prevented me from striding. You're forced to lift your legs, even on level terrain. Although the added effort needed for each step seemed insignificant, by the end of the day I was far more tired than I expected to be. The Two Brooks trail, up to the link trail to Loch Bonnie, had a shallow top-layer and it was easy to maintain a stride.

I brought Trail Crampons but did not require them. The top-layer of snow provided sufficient traction and the trails were largely unbroken; I did not encounter any icy sections. 

There's blowdown on the Bartlett Pond trail and the link-trail between Loch Bonnie and Two Brooks. The confirs are plastered with crusty snow and many are leaning, or have toppled, under the weight. When lying across the trail, they make a substantial barrier. In addition, the trails are narrow so when you crawl over or under the blowdown, you'll release a shower of snow from overhanging trees.

Typical obstructions on the Bartlett Pond trail.
Happiness is a secluded pond
Bartlett Pond is a very pretty spot. It was frozen over and the surrounding trees looked sugar-frosted. It's supposed to contain a partially submerged canoe (I didn't see it). The pond is located on State land, is well below 3500', and the terrain is fairly flat, so camping should be possible. It'd make a nice secluded destination for someone who wishes to try winter-camping.

Where's the submerged canoe? (Bartlett Pond)
Who turned out the lights?
In the morning, the clouds were low and concealed the scenery; Lake Placid was not visible. McKenzie's eastern and western lookouts offered only a few brief and gloomy glimpses. However, the western lookout was interesting in its own right due to the wind-carved snow formations on the surrounding trees. Fortunately, the cloud cover broke later in the day and the views from Moose were excellent.

Wind-sculpted snow formations on Mckenzie's western lookout.
Pristine trails
Unlike well-worn trails in the High Peaks, the trails here are like uneroded herd paths; a few inches of snowfall makes them indistinguishable from the surrounding forest floor. The trails are well-marked with "SOA" markers however the snowfall has obscured the trailbed and footprints of previous hikers.

Eyes wide open
I lost track of the Wadsworth trail a few times and had to backtrack/circle to spot the next marker. At one point, I lost it so completely that I thought I'd have to forego hiking to Moose. It appeared to be a deadend and I spent a lot of time trying to pick up the trail. The trail markers had changed appearance, now simply yellow disks and not "SOA", and I concluded it was not haphazard and probably meant something. I backtracked and, sure enough, I had followed a spur trail to a lookout. The "View ->" sign was hidden under a snow-laden spruce and the main trail veered sharply to the left and down. As the snowpack increases, and the trail signs and markers become more obscured, budget extra time for routefinding.

Example of the Wadsworth trail.

View of McKenzie from Moose.
Based on Brendan Jackson's Trip Report (a.k.a. DSettahr), I altered my planned route. Instead of descending Moose via the Two Brooks trail, I descended to Loch Bonnie and then followed the link trail back to Two Brooks. The descent is very steep but, given the snow conditions, I was able to 'glissade' and cover the 1/2 mile very quickly.

Loch not so Bonnie lean-to
Depending on your frame of mind, Loch Bonnie's lean-to either has lots of character or is decrepit. It faces away from the pond, has a dirt floor, and an over-ventilated roof. It faces a marsh that you must cross if you plan to go to Moose or to use the link trail. Currently, the marsh is partially-frozen and crossing it presents a bit of fun. Some of its many mounds of snow-covered marsh grass are solid whereas others let you discover the depth of the marsh. You get to discover which one's which. Better hurry because the game loses all its challenge in the winter.

Loch Bonnie.

Tired and Grumpy
The link trail has some challenging blowdown near Loch Bonnie. Under one of the "limbo-bars", I found a water bottle and later learned it belonged to Brendan (it was returned to him). In addition, the trail ascends, albeit gently, to the junction with the Two Brooks trail. I found this combination to be a bit taxing after several hours of hiking. In contrast, the descent via the Two Brooks trail was a pleasure and it was relatively free of obstacles.

NOTE: According to Richard H. Phillips' web-site, as of  late 2011 (post Tropical Storm Irene), the link trail between Loch Bonnie and the Two Brooks trail is no longer maintained.

You're on the grid
Being so close to Lake Placid, there's cellular reception in the area.



See all photos here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

MacNaughton 2010-09-11


  • Trail to Wallface Ponds offer solitude even on the busiest weekends.
  • There's an "Unwelcome Mat" on the doorstep to Upper Wallface Pond.
  • Unique, junction-less trail signs.
  • Bushwhacking is far removed from hiking herd paths.


Cool in the morning (40 F). Warmer and sunny throughout the day (mid to high 60's).


From Adk Loj to Scott Clearing and WallFace Ponds.


I arrived at the Loj at 7:30 AM and the parking lot was about one-third full with minimal activity. It would be a very different place at the end of the day. At 7:45 AM, I deposited the parking fee in the dropbox and headed out, via the Indian Pass trail, to Scott Clearing. According to the trail register, no one was heading to MacNaughton. The Indian Pass trail is through rolling, wooded terrain; I covered the four miles to Scott Clearing in ninety minutes.

Breached dam at Scott Clearing.

At 9:15 AM I crossed Indian Pass brook and headed up the blue trail to Scott and Wallface Ponds. This trail has something for all tastes: grassy garden-path, slick corduroy, mud wallow, and flooded bog. What you won't find is the heavy erosion that is a hallmark of other High Peaks trails. The 1.5 mile section from Scott Clearing to Scott Pond climbs steadily and is wet but not very muddy.

Although most trail signs are placed at junctions, there are two curious exceptions to this rule: one is located shortly before reaching Scott Pond and the other, in a state of decay, before reaching Upper Wallface Pond. I guess someone thought that hikers might need reassurance that their destination was just a short distance away.

I arrived at Scott Pond at 10:15 AM. Scott Pond is similar to Scott Clearing because it has a breached dam and is mostly a grassy meadow with a winding brook. It is a very pretty spot and possibly more attractive in the fall or winter.

Scott Pond.

The section between Scott Pond and the next nameless pond features a muddy stretch. Using hiking poles for balance, I was able to cross it, without mishap. The nameless pond, possibly the easternmost of the Wallface Ponds, offers a wonderful view of the MacIntyre range, notably Wright and Algonquin.

As you near Upper Wallface Pond, the terrain levels out, gets wetter, and you encounter its "Unwelcome Mat": the trail is flooded by beaver activity. With some care, you can cross the mess by tip-toeing over the submerged logs. Later in the day, when I returned to this section from the west, I discovered a herd path that circumvents the worst of it. The bypass is not evident when approaching from the east.

The "UnWelcome Mat" near Upper Wallface Pond.

I reached Upper Wallface Pond at 11:00 AM and, from its shore, had a good look at MacNaughton's ridgeline. I aimed my compass at the middle of the ridge and read a bearing of 240 degrees. I'd be referring to that compass frequently throughout the bushwhack. There is a herd path that leads around the southeastern end of Upper Wallface Pond. However, it appears to end, within a hundred yards or so, at a seemingly dead-end campsite. I double-backed and found another herd path and it led back to the very same campsite! The trick is to enter the campsite, turn left, push though the fir branches, and you'll find the path once again. It leads towards a channel between Upper and Lower Wallface Ponds. The channel, about twenty feet wide, can be easily crossed via a beaver dam.

Upper Wallface Pond and MacNaughton.

The herd path continues past the dam but eventually peters out. I retraced my steps several times in an attempt to find some trace of a path. Eventually, I stopped at a point about one-third of the way along the southern shore of the nameless pond south of Upper Wallface Pond. At 11:30 AM, I checked my compass and, with some trepidation, started up the slope.

The forest is mostly conifers and is reasonably open, meaning you can see at least 25 feet though the trees. The ground is mostly duff, moss, and downed trees. I frequently referred to my compass, aiming it and selecting a recognizable target. There's plenty of 'high-stepping' needed to get up and over obstacles. I tried avoiding the worst of it, mostly thickets and deadfall, yet maintain a fairly straight route up the slope. I found bushwhacking to be considerably different from hiking a herd path. You can't just keep your head down and 'follow the erosion'. I needed frequent stops to check my bearings, catch my breath, find a suitable route around obstructions, and move forward cautiously until the next repetition of this process. 

As I neared the summit, the trees closed in and the terrain became a little more challenging but, fortunately, I did not encounter cripplebrush. Overall, I thought my progress was slow yet I managed to reach the ridgeline's herd path in one hour. Although I suspected I had drifted too far to the right, at approximatetly 12:30 PM I came out near a three foot drop in the herd path. After scouting the ridge, I determined I had summitted about halfway between the eastern lookout and the western summit sign. Not too shabby at all.

A successful bushwhack complete with dozens of fir needles down my back.

As I headed to the summit sign, I heard voices and met two other hikers. Bob and Mary had arrived via the southern herd path, from Upper Works, and were heading to Adirondak Loj via Wallface Ponds. We spent about an hour at the eastern lookout having lunch and chatting. We left the ridge at 1:30 PM at a point just west of the lookout. We descended via what appeared to be a herd path but it quickly disappeared. Bob initially led the descent and then I volunteered about halfway down the slope. We made our way down cautiously and, at 2:30 PM, came out at the shore of the nameless pond just south of Upper Wallface Pond. We skirted it towards the east along a herd path and, after correcting for one wrong turn, picked up the herd path to the beaver dam. We continued to the "Unwelcome Mat" whereupon we exchanged farewells and I pressed on towards Adirondak Loj.

Mary descending MacNaughton. Wallface Ponds are visible in the distance.

The hike back to Scott Clearing was uneventful and I arrived at 4:15 PM. Here is where I saw the first evidence that this was a busy day in the 'Dacks. There's an odd tent site nestled up against the dam's wall. I say odd because is has a site marker yet it is not set back from the trail at all. I found three tents and a hammock wedged into the spot. A plastic bag of bananas (dessert for the bears?) was stashed in the rock wall. Further along at the Scott Clearing lean-to, someone strung up an illegal bear-bag across the brook. I suspected that it was a big day for bending, and breaking, rules in the High Peaks.

At 5:30 PM I arrived at Heart Lake and signed out at the trail register. Sixty-two hikers had signed in after me! Most appeared to have headed for Indian Pass, Street and Nye, or Mount Jo. On the best of days, Wallface Ponds has an empty dance card and might as well be renamed Wallflower Ponds. 

When I arrived at the Loj, at 5:45 PM, the main lot, and the overflow area, were full of cars. Dozens of hikers, including a busload from Quebec, were milling around the hiker's building. I've never quite understood how a busload complies with the 8-person per group limit. Do they break up into groups of eight and head to different destinations or, just for show, space the groups out in waves to assault Marcy? Whatever the case, it was clear that MacNaughton, Scott and Wallface Ponds can offer peace and solitude even on the busiest of days.

After cleaning up and changing clothes, I left the Loj at 6:00 PM. The ADK's private road extends all the way to the bridge over the West Ausable River. From that point onwards, cars were parked on both sides of the road and along the entrance to the South Meadows road. I have no idea if this represented a "normal" day at the Loj but I was glad to have chosen an out-of-the-way destination.


See all photos.

Sunday, August 29, 2010




My 46th High Peak.
9.75 hour trip. Approximately 8.3 hours of hiking.
"Red slime" is like cooking oil.

Very warm. Slightly humid.

Good but hazy.

Friday, August 27th was not a good day. I attended my uncle's funeral who had passed away a few days earlier at the age of 86. There have been three deaths in my family this year so 2010 has been emotionally difficult. On a more mundane note, I awoke to a scratchy throat and muscle pain. Fate conspired to cancel Saturday's hike.

Saturday was a day of convalescence and introspection. By evening, I felt better and decided that Sunday would be the day I'd hike Allen, my 46th peak. Life's short so do the things that you love, now.

My wife and I left Montreal at 4:00 AM. She would not be accompanying me to Allen but would spend the day relaxing on the public beach in Newcomb. If you saw a woman practicing tai-chi on the beach, that was her. She had never been to Tahawus so she paid close attention to the route to Allen's trailhead. She would return at 6:00 PM to share in my celebration of hiking my 46th High Peak. 

We arrived at the trailhead shortly before 7:00 AM. Armed with her words of encouragement and love, I set off at 7:10 AM with a spring in my step. I had hiked a section of the trail the previous weekend so it was largely familiar to me. The trail to the Opalescent river crossing is fairly level and a significant portion follows a road. I crossed the Opalescent at 8:15 AM. A pair of running shoes, and a T-shirt, still hang from a limb on the west side of the river. Are they forgotten or placed there for the convenience of others wishing to ford the river?

The next section crosses an open area with views of Adams, Calamity, and Allen in the distance. After pushing through brambles heavily laden with dew, and getting thoroughly wet, I reached the Allen trail junction at 8:45 AM. The sign for Allen is a four foot, split log, pointed at one end, and carved with the word "Allen"; it's hard to miss.

The path from the Allen junction to Skylight brook is wooded and has its fair share of muddy sections. It is not difficult but it felt longer than I had anticipated. I was raring to see Skylight Brook and I reached it at 9:50 AM. I stopped to change socks, patch a few hotspots, and have a snack. Within a few minutes I was joined by two hikers, also from Montreal, who left the trailhead shortly after I did. After we'd chatted about Allen they moved on to the summit. We'd meet again during the ascent, on the summit, and finally at the trailhead.

After a ten minute break at Skylight brook, I continued on to the junction with Allen brook. This part of the trail winds through conifers and is in good shape with little erosion or mud. I reached Allen brook at 10:25 AM. Up until this point of the hike, I had passed through terrain that was varied but generally typical of what you'd find throughout the High Peaks. The next section would introduce me to Allen's uniqueness.

If a herd path follows a brook, and the water levels are low, you're liable to hike in the brook to take advantage of exposed slabs and rocks. For example, a section of the trail to Redfield follows a brook and, the previous weekend, I hiked in the brook and found it very enjoyable. The herd path up Allen brook is an exception. The exposed rock is coated in a slick substance, widely referred to as "red slime", that provides all the traction of cooking oil. After a few experiments to gauge the limits of my ability to stay upright, I chose to avoid the slabs and use the muddy trails whenever possible.

I like a mountain trail that does not waste your time with switchbacks, ups, downs, flanking, or other nonsense; Allen's trail simply goes straight up the slippery brook. About three-quarters of the way up you come to an open slide with a good view of Redfield. Due to the red slime, the best route is to stick to the steep, mucky trail along the slide's left side. After the slide, the trail enters the woods and continues on solid ground to the summit.

I arrived at the summit sign at 11:40 AM and took a self-portrait. My big grin was genuine. When I stopped persuing 46er status in 1982, at the tender age of 23, I had completed 37 peaks in four years through many multi-day trips. I had always considered Allen, owing to its distance, to be a two-day venture. Yet, almost thirty years later, I was standing on its summit in less than four and a half hours. Was I feeling 'on top of the world'? You bet I was!

I walked over to the lookout at Allen's north end. It provides unique views of Skylight, Marcy, Panther gorge, Haystack, Gothics, and many peaks to the east including Giant and Dix. The two Montrealers were there and they proceeded to congratulate me. We all had lunch and quietly gazed at the marvelous views. Each peak brought back memories of the people, weather, views, and events that gave life to each hiking trip. It was a trip down memory lane because many of those hikes were over a quarter-century old.

I decided to celebrate my 46th summit by raising a glass of scotch to my departed relatives. I packed a proper whisky glass and two fingers of Lagavulin 16-year old single malt for the occasion. Sipping the scotch and viewing the High Peaks from atop Allen was a poignant moment.

I left the summit at 12:30 PM. After descending for about a half hour, I met a young couple ascending the trail. The boy was clutching an ADK trail guide and the girl was wearing a knee brace. Other than that, I don't recall seeing any packs or trail gear. They asked "how far to the summit" and I replied I had been descending for a half hour. I cautioned them about the "red slime" and the girl acknowledged its slickness. She expressed concern about the descent. I was surprised by their lack of equipment. During my trip to Redfield, I had also noticed hikers who seemed to travel beyond 'ultra-light' and more in the realm of 'unprepared'. When I signed out at the trail register, later that afternoon, I saw only my name and the two Montrealers but no record of the couple. They either started from elsewhere or enjoyed throwing caution to the wind.

I carefully made my way down the slick rocks and experienced only one unexpected slip. It was was short, fast and, fortunately, I had hiking poles and a tree branch to keep me upright. One nasty fall can ruin your hike and I wasn't about to carried out on this one. Once again, my hiking poles proved their worth and let me descend safely and quickly. By 1:30 PM I was back at the falls on Allen brook. I stood next to the falls and filled my water bag directly from the rushing water. I surmised Allen brook's water to be relatively safe and didn't bother to drop in an Aquatab. The water was cool and delicious. I guess I'll know the results of my gamble in about two weeks.

I passed Skylight brook at 1:50 PM and arrived at the East River/Allen junction at 2:50 PM. The Allen junction is in a clearing and the sun was baking everything in sight. I sat on a log and stripped off my wet socks and let my pruney-white feet dry out in the heat. After a snack, foot maintenance, and fresh socks, I pushed on to the Opalescent river. The overhanging bushes were now dry and made passage through them a less soggy affair than in the morning.

I arrived at the Opalescent at 3:40 PM and spent a few minutes enjoying the scenery. The low water level has exposed the river's rocky bed and large shoals of smooth round stones. At other times of the year, I imagine that crossing this bridgeless river can be a formidable challenge if not outright impossible. Fortunately, its current condition allowed me to rock-hop across it. If it wasn't on private land, it'd make a picturesque spot for camping.

The hike back to the trailhead was uneventful except for a brief glimpse of a white-tailed deer. It jumped out of the bushes, crossed the road, and darted off into the woods. It all happened within a few feet of me and in a blink of an eye. The remaining miles slipped by and I arrived at the trailhead at 4:55 PM. With only five hikers on the trail, on a warm summer's day, it seemed like I had the privilege to experience Allen in relative privacy.

I arrived one hour prior to the appointed rendezvous time so I headed back to the Hudson River and sat on its bank cooling my feet. About fifteen minutes later, the two Montrealers crossed the suspension bridge. At 5:30 PM I was milling around the empty parking lot watching cars head to and from Upper Works. My wife was unfamiliar with the area; she had seen the East River parking area for the first time this morning. By 6:00 PM I was concerned that something had gone wrong. My wallet and passport were with her so it'd be tricky to fend for myself.

By 6:10 PM I grew worried about my wife's safety. A moment later, I spotted our car, headlights flashing, and horn blaring. She had followed the road towards Upper Works but, at around 5:45 PM, turned back just short of the parking lot. She felt she had travelled too far, and missed the lot, so she doubled back. She stopped passing cars for directions, some had no idea about the 'parking lot for Allen', one indicated it was only 'four minutes up the road' (it was much more), and finally someone confirmed that he had seen a 'lone hiker in a red T-shirt'. Our reunion was joyous; we were both safe and sound. The trip couldn't have ended on a better note.

For best results, select Slide Show.

A toast to everyone who helped make this possible.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Redfield 2010-08-21

  • My "Apollo 10" trip.
  • Hike involved one 'penalty loop'.
  • East River trail from Flowed Lands is beautiful.

Morning: low 40's. Afternoon: low 60's. Overcast.


In preparation for Allen, my 46th, I wanted to hike a similar distance but with an 'early termination' option in the event of fatigue. Redfield, my 45th, fit the bill perfectly. If approached from Upper Works via the Calamity Brook trail, the return trip can retrace the inbound route or opt for four extra miles via the "East River Trail" (i.e. along the Opalescent river from Flowed Lands). Redfield would be my "Apollo 10"; a shakedown mission to determine if I could handle the 18 mile round-trip to Allen. In fact, after adding up the miles, the hike to Redfield is longer and slightly higher (21 miles + 1 mile 'penalty loop').

I departed Montreal at 3:00 AM and arrived at Upper Works at 6:00 AM. I could've arrived a few minutes earlier but I made my first mistake of the day and, en route to Upper Works, ended up at the locked gate. I missed the first lefthand fork thinking it was the route to the Santanoni trailhead (that's the second lefthand fork). Chalk it up to early-morning brain-fog. After finding a spot in the nearly full parking lot, I geared up quickly and left the trailhead at 6:10 AM.

At some point I was startled by a metallic noise in the woods and shouted "Hey!". A few steps later I saw a hiker preparing breakfast. I apologized for my kneejerk shout and moved on only to discover that the trail veered sharply to the left and over a log bridge. Thinking nothing of it, and still addled by the noise, I bulldozed over it and pressed on. A little while later I realized the trail markers were no longer red but blue. I forgot that, somewhere along the Calamity Brook trail, there's a junction with a trail that leads to Indian Pass. Now I had a nagging feeling that I may have taken a wrong turn. The terrain seemed correct, the trail well-worn, and the sun was on my right so I deduced I was heading in the correct direction.

At 7:40 AM I arrived at the Henderson Memorial and took a few photos. I had a sense of déja vu but could not recall which hiking trip in the past would have brought me here. Ten minutes later I was at the Flowed Lands register and looking out at Colden.

Henderson Memorial.
I caught up and passed a couple near the cairn to Marshall (the gentleman was wearing a 46er patch) and a lone hiker who was heading to Skylight and Gray. We chatted briefly while hiking and parted ways at Colden dam (8:15 AM). Based on my progress, I figured I'd be at the Uphill lean-to, and the cairn to Redfield and Cliff, within an hour.

In my mind's eye, I expected to arrive at Uphill lean-to and locate the cairn behind it. Of course, that's not how it is arranged but I didn't know it at the time. I did my best to zoom past all of the pretty views of the Opalescent. I planned to spend more time taking photos of this scenic brook on the return trip. However, a stop to peer into the gorge, and have a snack, was unavoidable.

At the head of the gorge.

Opalescent Gorge.
Somewhere around 9:00 AM I passed the root ball of a fallen tree and recognized it, from a photo I had seen, as being the old herd path to Cliff. A short distance later, I passed a cairn and thought it was an attempt to remark the old Cliff herd path (wrong). It couldn't be the route to Redfield because I haven't passed the Uphill lean-to yet (wrong). All of the campsite markers in the area were a surprise to me because I don't recall a camping area between Colden dam and Uphill lean-to thirty years ago (there still is none). I shrugged it off and continued my march towards Redfield (wrong).

I passed a troop of young hikers heading in the opposite direction. Hmmm, where were they going? The trail started to climb out of the valley. I looked back, saw Colden's slides and realized I made a mistake. That cairn popped into my mind but it was not accompanied with the requisite lean-to. A few paces later I saw a sign that forbade camping above 3500 feet. It might as well have read "You goofed!". I remember thinking "OK, smart guy, nobody has moved Uphill lean-to above 3500 feet." A quick glance at the map made me realize I was so focused on arriving at a lean-to that I had zoomed passed the junction with the Feldspar Brook trail.

Embarrassed with my severe bout of 'trail myopia', I hustled back, found the junction to Feldspar, recognized that the cairn was my objective, and flew down the trail towards it. I passed the lone hiker, heading for Skylight, and sheepishly admitted I had passed the cairn to Redfield. He reminded me that it also led to Cliff but that much, at least, I did recall. At 9:50 AM I arrived at the cairn, again. Arriving from the east, I saw a small yellow marker indicating the direction to the Uphill lean-to. The mistake amounted to a 1 mile 'penalty loop' for 'gross inattention'.

The herd path up Redfield starts along a smooth path and ends up following a wide brook. Where the two meet, there's a fine view of Algonquin that vaguely reminded me of the vista from Indian Falls. I stopped for a snack and a change of socks. I collected water into a spare water bladder and dropped in an Aquatab ostensibly to purify it but surely to have it taste vile. I stashed the water bladder and hung up my wet socks to dry.

MacIntyre Range viewed from Uphill Brook.
The brook's water level was very low thereby exposing a lot of smooth, dry rock and interesting water features. I found it easier, and more appealing, to hike in the brook as opposed to the trail. All good things come to an end, and the route veers right, out of the wide brook, and follows a smaller tributary brook. Eventually this too ends and the route returns to an earthen trail. I passed a father and son team who were making Redfield the third and final peak of their weekend trip together. The last stretch of the route was uneventful and I arrived at the wooded summit, in just over an hour, at 11:00 AM.

Redfield. Number 45 for me.
At the summit I met, for the second time, the troop of young hikers. Cameras were exchanged and summit photos were captured. The father and son team arrived and Redfield's miniscule summit became crowded. The troop left for Cliff and I moved to a boulder, a few feet past the summit, to get fine views of my next objective, Allen. It was a good place to have lunch and envision the hike to Allen.

I left the summit at 11:30 AM, collected my bag o'bleach and socks, and proceeded to spend time taking photos and videos along the Opalescent brook. The water level was low enough to let me stand at the head of the gorge and look down its length. This is a treat especially if you've seen the gorge during the spring runoff. I returned to the Flowed Lands register at 2:00 PM. I had another snack, and change of socks, at the Calamity Brook lean-to and patched up a few minor blisters. I felt reasonably good so I decided to pursue my original objective and exit via Hanging Spear Falls and the Opalescent river (the East River trail).

At 2:30 PM, I crossed the causeway at the breached Flowed Lands dam and, on the opposite bank, saw the sign indicating "East River Trail - Bridge Out". I was prepared to ford the Opalescent and looked forward to a cooling dip. The trail that follows the Opalescent river is remarkable. It is in such beautiful shape as to make it uncharacteristic for the High Peaks region. Virtually mudless and uneroded, it is a garden footpath through beautiful woods in a steep-walled valley high above a roaring brook.

Breached dam at Flowed Lands.
I arrived at Hanging Spear Falls at 2:50PM and followed the short sidetrail to a beautiful view of the falls. However, if not for time constraints, I would've found a way down to its base and fully appreciated its grandeur.

Hanging Spear Falls.
By 3:40 PM I arrived at the junction with the herd path to Allen. The trail here has exited the steep valley and is now mostly open, flat, and grassy terrain with chest-high bushes screening the trail. Although the trail wasn't difficult, and allowed you to stride at a fast pace, the area felt very remote and the trailhead seemed along ways off. The only way to change that was to press on and chew up those miles.

I arrived at the Opalescent river crossing at 4:15 PM. There were four people taking a break and I hazarded a guess that one of them was AdkWalrus completing his 46th peak. In fact, it was him, with his wife and friends, and I congratulated him on his success. AdkWalrus's group left a few minutes before I did after we exchanged farewells.

Opalsecent river crossing (low water).
I proceeded to cool my feet in the Opalescent and inhale another Cliff bar. The water level is so low that you can cross it by rock-hopping; no fording required. It also meant there'd be no cooling dip. I patched another tiny blister, put on dry socks, and prepared myself to burn up the remaining miles. I caught up to AdkWalrus and his wife and we ended up discussing all sorts of things all the way back to the trailhead (5:45 pm). It was a very pleasant end to a long and rewarding trip. By 6:00 PM I covered the remaining half-mile section of road and was back at the Upper Works trailhead.


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Friday, August 13, 2010

Mount Evans 2010-08-13

Although about a half-continent away from the Adirondacks, and I didn't even hike it, here are a few thoughts and photos of my recent trip to Mount Evans in Colorado.

Last week, August 9-13, I was in Denver on a business trip. Although I packed some gear, time constraints prevented me from hiking in the Rockies. However, on the final day, my colleague and I had a few spare hours and we drove to the 14,000 foot summit of Mount Evans

Topo Map

Up to that point, the highest altitude I ever experienced was atop the Aiguille du Midi near Chamonix in 1986 (3842m/12604ft). I didn't climb that either; I ascended via the awesome Téléphérique. Mount Evans offered me the chance to easily experience a higher elevation.

The town of Idaho Springs is a short drive west of Denver and that's where route 103 leads to Arapahoe National Forest and route 5, the road to Mounts Evans. After paying a ten dollar entrance fee (per carload), we noted the sign indicating the summit temperature is 39 F and 20 F with the windchill. It was 90 F in Denver. The paved road winds through beautiful stands of tall conifers. The first views of the forested valleys are spectacular and only get better as you ascend.

As we approached the treeline, we entered into rain clouds and lightning. As we passed Summit Lake, the rain turned to slush on the windshield and it didn't look promising for views from the summit. Fortunately, the clouds moved on, the rainbows appeared, and the sky cleared. After numerous hairpin curves, we arrived at the summit parking lot (14100ft).

Summit parking area (14, 100')
Except for a stiff breeze that nipped exposed fingers and ears, you couldn't ask for better weather at 14000 feet. The views were awe-inspiring. I followed a switchbacked trail to the rocky summit and found myself breathing heavily. As an Easterner, accustomed to hiking mountains whose summits are lower than Denver, I've developed great respect for hikers persuing  Fourteeners status. 

Spectacular view of Summit Lake.
There's a sign on the summit warning of altitude sickness and its symptoms. I had an empty feeling in my stomach and a some tingling in the fingertips but no headaches or nausea. The eye-opener was how hard I had to breathe while walking on the trail.

During the descent, and not far from the summit, a herd of mountain goats crossed the road. The young kids were playing with another, jumping straight in the air, twirling 180 degrees, and landing squarely on their hooves. I could've watched them for hours.
Local residents.
Summit Lake.


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