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.