Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Wolfjaws 2011-04-14

Brad and I started out from the St. Huberts parking lot at 7:00 AM. It was his first hike with snowshoes and, given that there was a chance of showers, we skipped our first choice of hiking the Santanonis and chose the Wolfjaws instead.

The recent rains and warm weather have eliminated the snow from the first mile of the Lake Road. The temperature was in the forties so snow conditions were best described as being 'mashed potatoes'. The West River trail is snowless and we bare-booted the frozen ground until a few slips on icy patches made us don our spikes.

All water courses are swollen with snow-melt and make for great viewing, not to mention the symphony of rushing water. The East Branch Ausable River and the Wedge Brook Cascades are running in full force. The sound of churning water, created far below in the gorge of the East Branch Ausable, accompanied our passage along the West River trail.

Canyon Bridge over the East Branch Ausable River.
Staying on the snow-spine, along the Wedge Brook trail, proved to be challenging. The spine was narrow and made of soft snow causing one to easily slip off. Stepping off the spine also caused minor post-holing. The snowpack improved somewhere around the height of the AMR property line and we replaced our spikes with snowshoes. The supportive crust I had experienced the previous week was gone and walking off-trail, even with snowshoes, resulted in post-holing.

As we approached Wolfjaws col, I noticed the low cloud cover had obscured the summits. The snowpack was solid in the col but, as we ascended Lower Wolfjaw, it was absent except for a meagre snow-spine along the trail. The moist air had condensed on the fir trees and was now dripping down on us like rain.

Near the summit, a brisk wind made us put on shells. The chilly air had caused the condensation to encrust the trees in a shimmering layer of ice creating a wonderland of crystal chandeliers. It was a small consolation for the complete lack of views from Lower Wolfjaw's summit. We hoped we'd have better luck on Upper Wolfjaws.

Like hiking through crystal chandeliers.
The descent to the col was quick but lacked the excitement of mid-winter glissades and butt-slides. The trail surface is uneven, dimpled, hard, icy, and completely unforgiving for any form of sliding. Brad was fairing well for a snowshoe beginner, especially considering the broad range of trail conditions he faced: mashed potatoes, hard crust, narrow snow-spine, ice, rocks, etc. 

In contrast to Lower Wolfjaw, the trail leading to Upper Wolfjaw, being on its northern flank, has an ample snowpack. When we reached the large glacial erratic atop the false summit, the cloud cover thinned briefly and we could spot the sun shining through. It raised out hopes that the weather was improving rapidly and we might get views before the hike was over. However, it was just teasing us because the cloud cover persisted. 

Upon reaching Upper Wolfjaw's summit, I found a dime on its rocky ledge. This was the start of a trend that would garner me a whopping thirty-six cents over the next two days. Not quite the haul found by MarcHowes under chair-lifts but it's a start. However, aside from pocket change, Upper Wolfjaws did not reward us with any views.

Arriving at the summit of Upper Wolfjaw on a viewless day.
Upon our return to the false summit, the clouds parted briefly and allowed us to peek, momentarily, across the valley to Nippletop and Dix. As we descended into Wolfjaws col, the cloud cover lifted and we were able to see across and appreciate Lower Wolfjaws rise 600 feet above the col. Similarly, as we descended the Wedge Brook trail, we looked back and could see Upper Wolfjaw's rocky north-eastern slope. When the weather is uncooperative, you appreciate whatever crumbs it throws your way.

Descending through mashed potatoes offered a few cheap thrills. On steeper pitches, I went off-trail and took long, plunging steps through the mushy snow. It was fun up to the point where my foot found submerged deadfall and brought the ride to a crashing halt. The fun was short-lived because the snow conditions deteriorated half-way down the Wedge Brook trail.

Wedge Brook Cascades.
Nearing the junction with the West River trail, we removed our snowshoes and donned spikes. Shortly after the junction, with the temperature a balmy 50 F, I removed my spikes and bare-booted the remainder of the hike. The only significant patch of snow lay in the shadows of a short stretch after the Canyon Bridge. The ground was mostly frozen but the brook crossings were becoming muddy.

As we crossed the foot-bridge spanning Gill Brook, we discovered a large tree lying across the Lake Road. It was an old snag that fell after we passed it in the morning. We arrived at the trailhead at 3:00 PM and signed out. Only four people had signed in after us. Along the way to the parking lot, I saw two workers and reported the downed tree on the Lake Road.

Although the weather didn't provide us with any summit views, we didn't get rain, saw the forest awaking from its winter sleep, heard the rush of rejuvenated brooks, and made new hiking friends; the trip was a success.


See all photos.