Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Marshall 2011-06-21

A three week vacation in China plus an extra three weeks of abject inactivity seemed like sufficient time to allow my right foot's plantar faciitis to magically disappear. Besides, the weather was outstanding and the siren call of hiking was too loud to ignore. Having vegetated for so long, I needed a modest objective, one that was on my list of peaks to re-hike, and Marshall was the best candidate.

I spent the evening of June 20th at Tmax and Topo's where I met David who had just come perilously close to severing the tip of one of his fingers. I also met Gerard who had suffered an unfortunate mishap during his return from Wright. Good thing I'm not superstitious because some people might call these incidents as 'omens'.

I turned in at 8:00 PM and awoke at 4:15 AM. Breakfast consisted of a pint of blueberries, three cups of my favourite cereal (Nature's Path Optimum), and a quart of low-fat milk (about a 1000 calories and over 40 grams of protein). My wife call's it 'horse food' ... like a feedbag, my breakfast bowl sits under my chin as I mindlessly gulp down its contents while reading the morning paper. Only this morning, I was staring out the hostel's window, enjoying dawn's progression accompanied by the sound of birdsong.

Despite dozens of hikes over many years and in all kinds of weather, I have never finished a hike with happy feet. The latest solution, slathering them with diaper-rash ointment (Boudreaux's Butt Paste ... great name!), produces the best results. In addition to reducing chafing, it must also have antiseptic properties because my feet, and footwear, don't smell despite miles of sweaty hiking.

Socks are another sorry topic. I had settled on mid-weight wool-blend socks but they're no fun in hot weather. On this hike I'd be trying a very lightweight synthetic blend. For a hiker, I'm equipped with 'prima donna' feet. I envy those who can wear anything and walk for miles without complaint.

The route from the Loj to Herbert brook is a well-worn super-highway. Here's what was notable about it on June 21st:
  • It was sunny and cool (about 50 F) morning. The bugs were few and far between.
  • I didn't see a soul at Marcy Dam.
  • I found a cup of coffee resting on the wooden walkway south of Avalanche Camp. It is an understatement to say it seemed out of place. I met the owners of the abandoned coffee cup a minute later. They were returning to their camp after having abandoned it, in a hurry, due to a camp-raiding bear. It was too difficult to run with the cup of coffee so it was left behind. Mystery solved.
  • Avalanche Lake was picture-perfect.
  • I didn't meet any hikers until I reached Lake Colden.
Moon over Avalanche Lake.

South on Hitch-up Matilda.

I arrived at the cairn at Herbert Brook at 8:30 AM which, at three hours, seemed like an awfully long time to cover six miles! Recalling my hike to Redfield last summer, I hiked in from Upper Works and passed the Herbert Brook cairn in just over two hours. Upon my return, I tried to improve my time but was only able to (comfortably) shave off fifteen minutes. Although the distance from Upper Works and the Loj to Herbert Brook is very similar, the terrain is most certainly not. 

The herd path following Herbert Brook is in great shape (thank you Joe Cedar and procook131). The brook is gorgeous and the herd path follows along its many broad slabs, mossy cascades, reflecting pools, and other attractive water features that beckon you stop and rest.

The herd path is well-defined and easy follow, at least until you lose it as I did. Somewhere along the way, I crossed Herbert Brook and followed a distinct path that led up Marshall's slope. Before long, the path petered out but, confident I had lost it only temporarily (bonehead), I pressed on. Eventually I was standing in thick woods and was clearly off the beaten path. I turned around and couldn't even retrace my route. How now, brown cow?

The brook was my baseline, so I made a beeline downhill towards it. It was a short bushwhack but gave me plenty of time to wonder how many others zigged, when they should've zagged, and created that silly path to nowhere. A few scratches later, I emerged at the brook and regained the herd path on the opposite bank. Moral of the story is to follow the brook to its source.

The brook eventually peters out and the herd path arrives at a bog whereupon it takes a hard left up Marshall's slope. I arrived at the summit at 10:45 AM and was warmly greeted by a swarm of black flies. I was coated with Watkins so they were no bother. I had honestly expected far more mosquitoes and black flies than I had encountered. Perhaps the hot, dry weather of the past few days had thinned their numbers. 

Marshall's southern lookout provided the most expansive views. The Santanonis and Henderson Lake are the most prominent features.

Great day in the High Peaks.
I had a snack and before long was joined by two hikers: a mother and her teenage son. They came from the Loj by way of the Indian Pass and Cold Brook Pass trails. They indicated they made very good time and the herd path from Cold Brook Pass was easy to follow. This was the route I had taken the first time I climbed Marshall (1982) and it was easy and uneventful. I didn't recall seeing the junction of the two herd paths (from Cold Brook Pass and Herbert brook) and they indicated it was very close to the summit. I decided I'd keep an eye out in case I chose to descend via the Cold Brook Pass trail.

The black flies were feasting on the two hikers and I discovered they had overlooked to bring bug repellent. Out came my bottle of Watkins to the rescue. We chatted for awhile and at around noon I bid them goodbye and began my descent. I descended all the way to the bog without spotting the trail junction. In retrospect, I believe the junction was a muddy patch, close to the summit, that I had avoided. At the bog, I considered following a faint trail that seemed to head towards Cold Brook pass. It led about fifty feet before disappearing. It was at this point that I dropped my guard and promptly walked into a 'sticker' that tatooed my forehead. One more souvenir to take home.

The descent was uneventful and, given the hot weather, a pleasure to be under the canopy of tall trees. I stopped for a fifteen minute break by a cascade to cool my feet in the water and change socks. I experienced a few twinges of pain in my right heel, and along the outer edge of my foot, but nothing debilitating. My legs felt fine and I wasn't tired. Despite six weeks of sloth, everything was holding up better than I had expected. Many hours of daylight remained and I toyed with the idea of heading to Iroquois. Reason prevailed and I reminded myself to avoid over-reaching. Don't push it; summer has just started and there are many hiking days ahead.

The trip back was a pleasant repeat of the morning's hike. I stopped at Beaver Point lean-to and enjoyed its spectacular view of the MacIntyre range, Lake Colden, Avalanche Pass, and Colden. I also saw something I'd never seen before: people floating on air mattresses in the middle of the lake. It was one of those rare moments in the High Peaks when the weather was just right to make the place warm and friendly. Such a far cry from the cold, miserable weather that plagued so many of my hikes and made 'floating on Lake Colden' a ridiculous notion.

Aside from a few scratches (and having an errant rock crack my windshield on the way home) it was a picture-perfect hiking day. 


See all photos.