Sunday, July 24, 2011

Dix Range 2011-07-24

Dix Range: Macomb, South Dix, East Dix, Hough, Dix


  • Two and a half hours of sleep (I hate campgrounds)
  • No hiking poles (trying to toughen up my knees)
  • One dinged ankle (hitting a tendon hurts like sin)
  • Four liters of water (to replenish the cascade flowing down my back)
  • Ran the flats (attempting to become a trail-runner ... ha-ha)
  • Dix Range in 10 hours (9 hours hiking + 1 hour rest)


Mr. Peabody's WABAC machine

Tuesday, August 25, 1981 was the first time I explored the Dix Range. I still have my hand-written notes (in a pocket-sized spiral-bound notepad) and here are a few excerpts:
  • "The bushwhack up Macomb is splendid."
  • "The slide is breathtaking."
  • "I rock climbed the cliff rather than skirt it ... exhilarating!"
  • "I sunbathed in the nude on an open ledge."
  • "Met an elderly gentleman and his son, 46R, was here 55 years ago, spoke of mining operations, lumber camps, log drives, fascinating! His son was hauling a broken crockpot he discovered in the valley."
  • "I decided to bivouac on South Dix."
  • "The setting sun throws long shadows in the valley."
  • "I am a spectator in the theater of life. The lights dim ever so slowly. A red veil of light is cast upon the audience, I and the mountains, and then the stars emerge. I am overcome with a sense of cosmic awareness."
  • "The fresh mountain breezes sing a lullaby as I gently drift into a deep sleep."

My recent hike to the Dix Range shared many positive aspects with my 30-year-old 'magical mystery tour' but a few stood in sharp contrast:
  • A bad night's sleep.
  • It's not the same slide.
  • I'm no longer a sun-worshipping hedonist.
  • Bivvying atop a 4000 footer is a no-no.

Of Mice and Men

My usual routine is to wake up in the middle of the night, drive 2.5 hours to the 'Dacks, and get on the trail around 7:00 AM. For this trip, I wanted an earlier start so I left the previous evening to camp near Elk Lake. Things didn't go according to plan and I found myself in Plattsburgh about 45 minutes prior to sunset. I wanted to camp at Blue Ridge Falls Campground, on Boreas road and 20 minutes from the Elk Lake trailhead, but it was not going to happen before sunset. I turned off at exit 34 and headed, along route 9, to the Poke-O'Moonshine state campground only to discover it was closed. Frustrated, I recalled that Magic Pines Campground was nearby so I sped towards Lewis. Gordon welcomed me and indicated I could pitch my tent in several spots. I chose site 95, under a canopy of mature white pines and on a level bed of pine needles. I visited two nearby campers and forewarned them that I'd be waking up very early but would try to be as quiet as possible. Both parties indicated they also planned to rise early (albeit not at 4:00 AM). No one was at the third tent and that would prove to be fateful.

Why I hate campgrounds

Two young men appeared at the third tent around 9:30 PM, built a roaring fire and began a rousing conversation. Prepared for unwanted 'sound and light' shows, I donned ear-plugs and an eye-mask. Even earplugs couldn't muffle their snickering, giggling, and chatter. I knew I was in trouble when one fellow commented that he could sit by the fire until 3:00 AM. They were accompanied by the usual campground irritants including the passing traffic on the nearby highway, yapping dogs, the slamming of car doors, and the one that exemplifies people's obliviousness, the piercing honk of a car's horn when its alarm has been activated. Maybe I was the only one who simply wanted to hear the wind in the pines, the patter of raindrops on my tent, a distant bird-call, and all other natural sounds. Stupidly, I expected to find peace and quiet in a campground.

Passing showers didn't dampen their conversation. I hoped they would respect curfew but 11:00 PM came and went. Jokes about 'sharpening your stick' grated on my nerves. At midnight I stormed out of my tent and, within their view, marched towards the office. I pressed the buzzer but no one appeared. I headed back to my tent and noticed the two inconsiderate chatterboxes were gone. I assumed they 'got the message' and turned in. At 12:30 AM the conversation started anew. At 1:00 AM, now robbed of three hours of sleep, I stood outside my tent and addressed them as calmly as my displeasure allowed: "Gentlemen! It's well past curfew and we're into quiet time. I have a long-planned hike tomorrow that requires me to get up at 4:00 AM. Could you please respect the quiet hours?". They apologized and the woods fell silent. Within a few minutes they retired to their tent and, assuming nylon tent walls were soundproof, continued their conversation. I fell asleep some time after 1:00 AM.

I awoke at 3:45 AM, before my alarm sounded. I felt like I had sand in my eyes. I contemplated the sanity of hiking on less than three hours of sleep. I decided to go through the motions and see how I felt as time went by. A mean streak in me wanted to give the chatterboxes a 4:00 AM wake-up call but I didn't want to be banned from the campground. I quietly packed my belongings, ate breakfast, and drove away at 4:45 AM. The Elk Lake trailhead was still an hour away.

A new day dawns

The Elk Lake trailhead contained about a dozen cars and at least one person sleeping in a Hennessy Hammock. I suspect he had a far better night's sleep than I did. The only sound I heard was the distinctive cry of a loon from nearby Elk Lake. I was the first to sign in and left the trailhead at 6:05 AM.

The most remarkable aspect of the trail to Slide Brook is its lack of erosion. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a forebearer of the conditions I'd experience throughout the day. I can't stress enough how beautiful the herd-paths are in the Dix Range. With the exception of a few steep sections, the trail-bed is mostly forest duff and, probably owing to the lack of rain this month, remarkably free of mud. If some trails are 'work', these are a 'vacation'.

New slide ain't the old slide

I arrived at the Slide Brook cairn at 6:45 AM. The herd-path passes through the designated campsite and follows a clear route. I arrived at the base of the slide at 7:30 AM. Not all memories survive the passage of thirty years. Nevertheless, I suspected this was not the 'breathtaking slide' I had climbed thirty years ago. Upon my return home, I checked the ADK guidebook and confirmed the existence of a new and an old slide. I was not impressed with the new one. It is an inclined field of rubble; a slope covered in aggregate ranging in size from bread crumbs to breadboxes. At 7:55 AM, I reached a large boulder at the head of the slope. There was no evidence of the rocky cliff I had climbed nor the ledge where I had sunbathed decades ago. It was a good hike with lots of views but, looking through my rose-coloured glasses, not the memorable slide of my youth.

Elk Lake from the top of Macomb's western slide.

A painful anatomy lesson

Somewhere between the top of the slide and the summit of Macomb, there's a three foot earthen rise with a protruding log. With much consideration given to planting my right foot, and none for my left, I smacked the tendon of my flexor digitorum longus muscle. I was unaware of the medical term at the time and simply knew I struck a tendon on my inner left leg, just above the ankle, with such force that I cringed in pain. My first thought was "Nice move, dum-dum!". The impact site was extremely tender and had a minor laceration. I was concerned it would swell and impede the tendon's movement. I rotated my foot and confirmed its range of motion was normal and relatively pain-free. The laceration was under the gaiter so I chose to tend to it at the next rest stop (i.e. after completing South and East Dix).

I stood atop Macomb at 8:15 AM. Here is where I had met the 'elderly gentleman and his son' and had been intrigued by his recollections and the 'broken crockpot'. The view from Macomb is excellent but nothing that hasn't already been seen during the slide's ascent. Nevertheless, you get an expansive view of the Elk Lake basin and its western bulwhark, the Colvin Range. The morning fog, suspended above the lake, provided an extra touch of drama.

Farther west, and northwest, lie Allen, Haystack, Marcy and the Great Range. Nearby is Nippletop and, by peeking around the trees to the north, one can see Dix, the day's objective. When appreciating the architecture of skyscrapers, one criterion is the roof's design. Does it have a 'nice hat'? Yes, viewed from Macomb, the Beckhorn provides Dix with a very nice hat. It is the kind of mountain you draw as a kid, a steep-sided pointed cone, and I had a few more summits to visit before I'd stand atop it. One more photo of 'boots posing with USGS marker' and I was off.


Do the Monkey

The herd-path into the Macomb/South Dix col is in excellent shape and allows for a speedy descent. Although I brought my trekking poles, I found myself hiking without them. The herd-paths in the Dix Range tend to be narrow and there were many spots where the poles would be awkward to use. I found myself descending 'ape-style', like I did years ago, where I simply grabbed whatever was within reach to moderate my descent and assist my ascent. Given that the herd-path is narrow, there was never a shortage of handholds.

In the col, I passed the cairn marking the southern arm of the Lillian brook herd-path. I began ascending the first bit of exposed rock at 8:45 AM. I re-entered the woods and, just a few yards west of South Dix's summit, passed a prominent cairn marking the herd-path to Hough. At about 8:50 AM I was taking a self-portrait atop South Dix's wooded summit. I don't recall the precise location of my 'hors la loi' bivouac but, to minimize my footprint, I had chosen bare rock. It might have been at the lookout with its grand view of Macomb and numerous lesser peaks lying to the south, including Camels Hump and Niagara.

I left South Dix at 9:00 AM and headed towards East Dix. The descent into the South Dix/East Dix col is unremarkable except for the quality of the herd-path. South Dix has a long eastern shoulder with a gentle slope and the path is park-like. Being only a third of South Dix's length, East Dix's western slope is comparatively short and steep. About ten minutes prior to the summit, I passed a well-defined side-trail. There is no cairn but the trail's mouth is partially obstructed by a pile of branches. I guessed it led to East Dix's northern slides and the herd-path from route 73. Upon my return from South Dix's summit I explored the side-trail briefly, confirmed it was not a deadend, added another branch to the wood-pile, and continued on my way.

Toys that go boom!

I arrived on East Dix's rocky summit at 9:30 AM. The summit disc is unique because it is attached to a boulder. Being a gearhead, I was fascinated by the fact someone had employed a power-actuated nail gun, basically a zip gun that, when struck, explodes a .22 cartridge that fires a nail, to attach the plastic summit marker. I had used one extensively, when finishing the basement of my first home, and experiencing it drive a nail through a two-by-four into concrete is a guilty pleasure for boys of all ages. Now I was staring at the marker and wondering if whoever attached it had the same thought I did: "Hmmm, to fire a nail into igneous rock. Will it go or will the rock shatter into anti-personnel fragments? Did I remember to bring goggles? Nope. Nuts, here's goes nothing. BANG! Awesome, it worked! One more nail to be sure!".

View of Macomb from atop East Dix.
At 10:10 AM I stopped at South Dix's lookout for a break. I cleaned and bandaged my souvenir from Macomb, downed two Advils, greased my feet, changed my socks, and munched on a Builder bar. I had left my hydration bag in an ice-chest overnight so the water was still refreshingly cold. Despite a bad night's sleep, and accompanied by my usual entourage of foot and knee complaints, I felt I had made good progress. The day was young, the weather was perfect, the herd-paths in top shape, and I was looking forward to the hike over Hough to Dix. Refreshed, I left South Dix at 10:30 AM.

About fifteen minutes later I was standing atop so-called 'Pough' and admiring the view of Elk Lake. Within another five minutes I was at the designated campsite in the col between Pough and Hough. The area contains a rock fire-ring and several spots to pitch a tent. I noticed some orange flagging and didn't think much of it at the time but I now suspect it indicated the northern arm of the Lillian brook herd-path.
Looking skywards from the Pough/Hough col.
I reached Hough's southern rock outcropping at 11:10 AM where it offered an excellent view of my route. As good as the views were, it wasn't the summit, so I pressed on. Less than ten minutes later I stood atop Hough. Exposed to the elements, its summit marker is virtually blank but there's no question that you're on its pointy summit. Although it has the same western view as seen from Macomb, it seemed somehow fresher and more dramatic from Hough. I'm happy to report that the hornets, mentioned in Joelenhard's TR of June 20th, were absent.

My regular camera, an ultracompact Casio, had developed a focus problem and was in the shop for repairs. I was using a compact Canon SX210 with a 14-power zoom lens that, unlike my Casio, could be employed while shooting video. I put it to good use taking a sweeping panorama from Elk Lake to the Beckhorn. The view to the north was a little intimidating because there appeared to be an enormous drop from Hough equivalent to the incredible rise to the Beckhorn. In fact, the descent is only half of the eight hundred foot ascent. I left Hough at 11:20 AM.


No better place to be

My right knee had been voicing its displeasure throughout the hike. Somewhere along the way, precisely where I don't recall, I remembered one of Neil's comments about managing pain: "When I think I'm in pain, I hit my head against a tree to reset my pain meter". When I first read it I thought it was pithy, albeit somewhat glib; it's easier said than done. However, it resonated during this hike because it beat the hell out of what I had been doing the past few days. I had been overhauling our home's irrigation system and that chore involved a lot of digging in the sweltering heat. By day's end I was exhausted and thought I'd rather feel this tired after a hike instead of digging ditches. When you think it's bad, recall a time when it was worse and you'll feel comparatively better. Of course, there will be a time when you've never felt worse! When that moment arrives, consider the following example of stoicism: Two mountaineers were forced to bivouac at high altitude with no protective gear. The situation was desperate and one asked the other "What do we do now?". The other paused for a moment and then replied "Now we suffer."

The herd-path leading into the Hough/Dix col is narrow and scratchy. Once again, trekking poles seemed like they'd be more of a hindrance than an aid. The opposite side was steep but well worth the effort when, at 11:50 AM, I popped out at the first lookout. Now I had a commanding view of the curving ridge leading to the Beckhorn. I knew this section, the last ascent of the hike, would be a gas because it follows the ridgeline, provides many views to the east and west, and includes several spectacular lookouts. This is a 'must-hike' section of the 'Dacks.

Tie a yellow ribbon ...

I made sure to pause at each one of the lookouts and observe the scenery from a slightly different angle. Somewhere along the way I discovered a yellow bandanna. I attached it to my pack and, upon my return to the trailhead, tied it to a nearby fir tree. It seems I find something on every hike!

I arrived at the last lookout at around 12:10 PM. It provided a clear view of Hough's western slide. It was also where I was passed by a young man, and his dog, rapidly descending from the Beckhorn. Focused on his speedy descent, I don't think he saw me although I was only about ten feet off the herd-path. The Beckhorn was now very near and I was infused with new energy to reach Dix's summit before the half-hour.

Ten minutes later, after an interesting scramble up a short but steep trough of rock, I caught sight of yellow paint-blazes and realized I had reached the Beckhorn. To paraphrase Bill Cosby, "The view ... was tremendous!". The peak-bagger in me hissed that it was the same view from Dix and, if we hustled, we could still make it before the half-hour. I passed a gaggle of young hikers headed for the Beckhorn and, at 12:26 AM, spotted Colvin's survey bolt hammered into Dix's summit. Top o'the world, Ma!

Cadaverous feet enjoying the view from atop Dix.

R & R

With the day's major ascents completed, and five more summits added to this year's 46er round, it seemed like a good time to take an extended break. I hung my dripping wet T-shirt on a tree, doffed my boots and bandanna, stripped off my socks, and stretched out to catch some rays. Not being the sunworshipper of my youth, it wasn't long before I got bored and turned to my camera to capture images of East Dix's slides, Elk Lake, distant Noonmark, and the route up Dix from Round Pond. Before long I was joined by another hiker, Dave, who arrived by way of the Beckhorn trail. He intended to do an out-and-back to Hough. I mentioned the possibility of exiting via the Lillian Brook trail but he preferred to 'hump back up Dix'. We chatted about hikes past and present. Forty-five minutes later, we shook hands and left in opposite directions. I couldn't recall if I had ever hiked the Hunter's Pass trail and, with the whole afternoon available, it seemed like a good time to explore it. I left Dix's summit at 1:20 PM.

The top end of the Hunter's Pass trail is in surprisingly good shape. Although steep, its earthen bed is mostly intact and allowed me reach the junction with the Round Pond trail at 1:30 PM. Ten minutes later, I paused at a lookout and witnessed the grandeur of Hunter's Pass framing distant Elk Lake. The remaining descent became steeper, and more serious, and finished by passing over large boulders in the pass. My knees developed new pains and seemed to say "Hey! Where are the trekking poles?". I arrived in the pass at 2:00 PM and looked up to fully appreciate its rugged beauty. Nippletop forms its steep western side and Dix stands on its eastern side with an imposing and precipitous cliff. The pass itself is a thick tangle of trees that does not invite off-trail exploration.

A spring in my step

The trail out of the pass is a pristine footpath that descends gradually and closely follows East Inlet brook. I suspect most people, bound for Dix, opt for the Beckhorn trail and skip the slightly longer Hunter's Pass trail. I found myself reinvigorated and began to run the long downhill slope. At 2:20 PM, I paused at an intersecting brook and downed a half-liter of cold, clear, water. Naturally, I filtered it with my bandanna and zapped it with my Steripen before pouring it down my eager gullet. Safety first.

I decided that if I ever wanted to trail-run, now would be a good time because I was still feeling good and I'd be hard-pressed to find a level trail in better shape. I arrived at the Beckhorn trail junction at 2:40 PM. The trail sign indicated 3.8 miles to the trailhead. I committed to complete it by 4:00 PM. What I failed to consider was that the trail is not totally level. It rises just before Dix Pond and once again before the Lillian brook lean-to. Undaunted, I simply dropped back to a fast walk and thought about how much better this was than digging holes.

At 2:47 PM, I paused at Dix Pond to admire the passing clouds reflected in its still waters. It beckoned me to stay awhile and enjoy its serenity but that pleasure would be best enjoyed as part of an overnight stay. I had already made a blood pact with my inner trail-runner and had a few more miles to cover. I crossed Lillian brook at 3:00 PM and couldn't pass up a quick visit to the lean-to. I found two fellows, who I had seen earlier in the day, relaxing on the lean-to's floor. A quick hello, photo, goodbye, and I was off. It's a lovely spot, especially Lillian brook as it courses over a smooth slab of rock and forms an inviting shallow pool.

The quiet beauty of Dix Pond.
At 3:27 PM, I passed Slide Brook lean-to. I had closed the loop and was now in the home stretch. I ran past two groups of hikers; one remarked "Did your wife ask you to be home by a certain hour?". Not being much a runner, I had to drop back to a walk several times. Every time I slowed down, I glanced at my watch and gave myself a kick in the butt "You know if you don't get there before four, all this effort will be wasted!". My silly little competition with myself would start anew and I picked up my pace. A big grin plastered my face when I saw cars through the trees and arrived at the register at one minute to four. The horned trail-runner, perched on my left shoulder, was grinning as well.

Frazzled but pleased to have reached my goal.
I spent about 45 minutes in the parking lot, bagging my sodden clothing, washing up, changing into clean clothes, arranging my gear, guzzling water and eating fresh peaches. The two parties I had passed arrived but I was in no hurry to leave. The clean-up and cooldown period is an important part of my hike and prepares me for the drive home. It was an exceptional day and I hoped to see more of the same in the Santanonis and Sewards before finishing this year's round on Whiteface.


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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Rocky Peak Ridge and Giant Traverse 2011-07-19

I've always heard good things about the East Trail to Giant. Starting at the trailhead in New Russia, it wends its way over Blueberry Cobbles, Bald Peak, Mason, Rocky Peak, Rocky Peak Ridge and finally, after eight miles and 5300 feet of ascent, arrives at the summit of Giant. The appeal of this trail is that it traverses an open ridge offering unobstructed views of the countryside. I love hiking over open rock, amidst park-like pines, sedges, and wildflowers, with sweeping views of nearby peaks and valleys. I wondered why I hadn't visited this attractive trail and two reasons came to mind: it's a thru-hike, so there's a need for return transportation, and its 5300 foot ascent requires a healthy measure of fitness.

I solved the issue of transportation by deciding to bike from the Chapel Pond trailhead back to New Russia. Chapel Pond lies about a thousand feet higher than New Russia so most of the route is an effortless downhill run. This was important to me because I'm not much of a cyclist and I wasn't enamoured with the idea of an uphill bike ride after several hours of hiking.

Since January, I've hiked 31 peaks, as part of my second 46er round, so I'm no stranger to long hikes. However, I doubt I've exceeded 4500 feet in a single hike so the East Trail would be 'pushing the envelope'. I figured it would be a good test before embarking on a one-day hike of the Dix Range which, in its shortest form, provides an identical ascent and a similar distance.

My fitness is not where I'd like it to be. I'm now plagued with all sorts of 'podiatric problems' that refuse to 'get better with rest and time'. Unlike my leg muscles, my feet refuse to 'toughen up' and have chosen to 'break down'. If my feet survived this hike, I figured they'd be fine for the Santanonis, Dixes, and Sewards.

My first hike to Rocky Peak Ridge (RPR) was 30 years ago via the usual route, namely as a side-trip from Giant. I hiked Giant this past winter but ran out of steam to visit RPR. All this to say that I was looking forward to climbing RPR via a route I'd never hiked.

I left Montreal at 3:40 AM and, shortly before 4:00 AM, barely managed to board the Mercier bridge. The entrance ramp was being sealed off with traffic cones and was about a dozen cones shy of complete closure before I managed to slip in. Otherwise, I'd be forced to detour to another bridge and, at 4:00 AM, taking a longer route to your destination is especially unappealing. If you want to experience true 'carmageddon', come visit the island of Montreal this summer; once on the island, you may never get off!

I arrived at the Chapel Pond trailhead (i.e. Zander Scott trail) at around 6:15 AM. I spotted Gerard's vehicle and recalled that he and Bud were heading to Giant. They had chosen an early start and I hoped I'd meet them during the day. I extracted my disassembled bike from my car's trunk and began to put it back together. It was a good thing I brought work gloves because it was a messy affair to get the rear wheel and chain back in place. I headed into the woods, not so simple while carrying a bike, and found a suitable place to stash it. I locked it to a tree and made sure I pocketed the key!

The trip to the New Russia trailhead would've been faster had I known its precise location. Although armed with the ADK guidebook, and a foggy mental picture derived from Google's Streetview, I failed on my first attempt. Second time was a charm, it was farther than I thought, and I found it just north of Gilligan's Lane. I signed in and left the trailhead at 7:10 AM.

It must have rained overnight because everything was dripping wet. The trail had the appearance of being freshly swept and the air was thick and humid. Within minutes I began to sweat profusely and didn't stop until the hike was over. I became concerned that my 3 liter water supply would be inadequate and there'd be no refueling until Lake Marie-Louise or Giant's lower western slope. Fortunately, it lasted the entire trip.

It is clear that the East Trail to Giant does not see a lot of use. It begins in a stand of mature firs yet its surface is uneroded duff. It reminded me of portions of the East River trail, on AMR property, and a section of the identically named East River trail that heads south from Flowed Lands past Hanging Spear Falls. Hiking these park-like trails is a treat. What an odd coincidence that they all have similar names!

I reached the first lookout just before 8:00 AM and, in addition to a fine view of a cloud-laden valley, I was rewarded with blueberries! Blueberries are in season and can be found lining the trail from the first lookout all the way over Blueberry Cobbles (naturally) and Mason to the summit of Bald Peak. Although not fully ripened, their sweet-tartness was a delicious bonus I greatly appreciated. To say time was lost to harvesting berries would be shortsighted. I consider it time well spent fully appreciating the trail's bounty.
Whereas other mountains provide a wonderful sense of exposure solely on their summits, the route to RPR also offers it along the way to its summit. An added bonus is that the trail, well-marked with cairns and paint blazes, winds through blueberry and raspberry bushes, mosses, sedges, pines, firs, oaks, and wildflowers. 
Bald Peak stands 3000 feet tall but requires an ascent of about 2600 feet (including elevation lost to descents) which, elsewhere in the Adirondacks, will put you on top of a 46er peak. However, unlike most 4000 footers, a significant portion of the trail to Bald Peak offers unobstructed views. 

I reached Bald Peak at 9:30 AM and got a close-up view of what's involved to get to Rocky Peak. The trail drops 200 feet into the col (Dickerson Notch) and then climbs 1200 feet in less than a mile (0.7)! At the time, I was unaware of the measurements and, based on a simple visual assessment, I thought to myself, "Hmm, there's some serious hiking to do!'. I wasn't proven wrong. 
Atop Bald Peak.
Glacial erratic amidst blueberries.
The trail rises almost a thousand feet in the first half-mile yet, despite its steep grade, it is in excellent condition. Completely wooded, there were no significant views until topping out on Rocky Peak. After many pauses to catch my breath, and sip water, I arrived on Rocky Peak at 10:40 AM and saw the prize, RPR, less than a mile, and 300 feet, away. I looked forward to this portion of the trail because I'd be visiting Lake Marie-Louise and the open meadow leading to RPR's summit.

Lake Marie-Louise was not exactly what I had imagined it to be. In my mind's eye I saw a pretty mountain pond in the midst of a meadow. In reality, it is surrounded by a conifer forest. I've read warnings about its water quality but, at least visually, it looked no worse than any other Adirondack pond I've seen. Having said that, I certainly would not drink its water untreated and didn't bother to sample it. Water quality aside, it's a lovely pond with clear water, a grassy patch of shore, lilypads at its western end, and a good view of nearby RPR from its eastern end. I didn't bother to inspect the nearby campsite but I imagine it would be a lovely place to spend a starry night.
Lake Marie-Louise.
The final 300 foot ascent rises out of the trees and traverses a beautiful meadow. At 11:30AM, after 6.7 miles and 4700 feet of ascent, I arrived on RPR's rocky summit. I met two hikers from Montreal and we engaged in a long conversation, in French, about our respective hikes. They indicated they hiked the Zander Scott trail whereupon I asked if they encountered 'deux gros gars' ('two big guys', namely Gerard and Bud) along the way. They had met them early in their hike and the two were making slow progress. I explained that, although slow, the 'two big guys' were awfully determined to succeed.

The two Montrealers generously offered to drive me back to the New Russia trailhead. I thanked them and said I might just accept their offer should I finish in a bad way. However, I was feeling pretty good and looking forward to zipping down route 73.

It left RPR at 11:45 AM and, 50 minutes later, arrived at the Zander Scott trail junction. The trail up Giant, out of the col, represented the 'pushing the envelope' part of my hike and I think I faired well. Five minutes later I was standing atop Giant's heavily populated summit. In addition to several small clots of hikers, the summit was littered with teenage boys, apparently part of some association, sunbathing on the rocks. It was certainly a different world compared to the peace and solitude of the morning's hike. The only people not on Giant were 'les deux gros gars'.

I spent 20 minutes on the summit, resting, snacking, changing socks, and admiring the acrobatics of the soaring ravens. I gained respect for these remarkably intelligent birds after reading Bernd Heinrich's Mind of the Raven. Attracted by hikers bearing food, they swooped in surprisingly close in order to nab a treat. Boldness is one of their survival skills and it is clear that these birds have learned that the reward can be greater than the risk.

Refreshed, I left Giant's summit at 1:00 PM and, 15 minutes later, finally met Gerard and Bud. Despite many hours on the trail, they appeared to be in good spirits and determined to succeed. We chatted very briefly, I wished them well and they pressed on to the summit. At 1:30 PM I passed the two Montrealers and, once again, thanked them for their offer but it looked like I'd finishing in fine style and would be cycling back. I passed several descending hikers and yielded to ascending hikers. I stopped at the Nubble junction where I found a mossy brook and took a moment to sterilize a half-liter of water. The cold clear water was delicious and a welcome change from the lukewarm bathwater I had been sipping all day.

The remainder of the trail sped by quickly and provided notable views of Giant's Washbowl, Chapel Pond, and Chapel Pond Slabs. I arrived at the trailhead at 2:20 AM, ducked into the woods to retrieve my bike, stowed my poles, donned my helmet, and was out on the road at 2:30 PM. Southbound route 73 rises gently from Chapel Pond but, a few hundred yards later, begins a lazy descent that quickly steepens to provide an exhilarating ride. A day's worth of sweat evaporated in a flash and, bathed by a cooling breeze, I'm pretty sure I wore a silly grin for most of the descent.

Once on route 9, peddling was required to get past the flats and a few gentle uphills. Thirty-five minutes after starting out, I pulled into the New Russia trailhead and quickly began the messy job of disassembling my bike for storage. I stowed my gear, signed out at the register, changed into swim trunks and drove off to the nearest swim hole.

Being a hot, sunny day in July, Split Rock Falls was a busy place. The waters of the Boquet River never felt so good. A day's worth of grime was swept away and replaced by a sense of invigoration. I sat on a sun-baked rock to dry and watched the river cascade down the rocks. It was a perfect ending to the day.

Split Rock Falls.


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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Algonquin, Iroquois, and Shepherd's Tooth 2011-07-10

It was such a beautiful weekend that it was difficult to pry myself out of our back yard. On Saturday afternoon, my wife and I were stretched out on our outdoor swing-bed, listening to the fountain's patter on the pool's surface, looking out onto out flower gardens, and savouring the warm breezes. Thoughts of finishing my second 46er round were far from my mind. Yet it seemed like a shame to not scratch off another peak from the list.

My wife would be accompanying me to Lake Placid on Sunday but would not be hiking. With the exception of Iroquois and RPR, my remaining peaks are full-day excursions (Sewards, Santanonis, Dixes). So I chose Iroquois with the intent of completing it quickly so that my wife and I could have the balance of the day together. 

My wife would drop me off at the Loj and I'd call her from Algonquin's summit. We fixed a return time based on my estimate of a seven-hour hike. I left the trailhead at 8:35 AM.

About 15 minutes past the trail junction (to Marcy Dam) I discovered a child's running shoe. I picked it up and, within a few yards, found the pant leg of a pair of convertible pants quickly followed by the matching shoe. Several minutes later, my scavenger hunt came to an end . Junior's pack had been left open. Mom took responsibility for the error and junior was happy to be reunited with his shoes. All in a day's hike.

Fifty minutes out from the Loj, I was reunited with a memory from a previous hike to Algonquin. Upon returning from Algonquin last March, our group was volunteered into performing impromptu trailwork. We sawed and removed a snag that had fallen across the trail. I spotted the sawn end, which remained pointing into the air, but was now several feet above the trail's surface. It stood as mute witness to the depth of this past winter's snowpack.

One hour from the Loj, I arrived at MacIntyre Falls where I stopped to get water. I thought about what the falls looked like last March: a wide, featureless gully of snow with no evidence of a waterfall. Now it revealed itself as a wondrous collage of rock, lichen, moss, fallen timber, and cascading water.

Just past the falls, I caught up with the source of fresh tracks I had been following. A husband and wife team had paused for a rest and we discussed hiking poles. He was new to hiking with poles and had encountered difficulty with pole-placement. I explained they were a tremendous aid for my old knees and, with experience, pole-placement becomes second-nature, like driving a car with a stick-shift. We chatted for several minutes and then I pressed on to the summit. We'd meet again later in the day.

Shortly after 10:00 AM, I arrived at the Wright/Algonquin trail junction. It was now clear to me that there had been no need to 'tank up' at MacIntyre Falls. I had passed several water sources and now found it flowing down the Algonquin trail. Water was in abundance on Algonquin's northern slope but, except for soupy mud puddles, it would prove to be absent along the ridge to Iroquois.

At 10:30 AM, I reached a section of trail featuring a long, steep pitch of exposed rock. Recalling last March's hike, it was the long, snow-covered chute that we had slid down on our snowshoes (and butts). Now it was a steep slope of broken rock where any form of sliding would be the result of a mistake.

At 11:00 AM, I stood on Algonquin's USGS summit marker and called my wife. I reported my progress and explained I'd check in again upon returning from Iroquois. Only a few High Peaks stand at the fringe of Lake Placid's cell range so it's a rare treat to call someone. I suspect that the current generation, so eager to share every moment of their lives, will demand better cellular coverage. Before long, hikers will stream video from summits, tweet at trail junctions, and text in tents.
Summit steward educating first-time visitors to Algonquin.
The summit steward, a petite young lady, explained how a significant amount of the summit's greenery had been restored. She showed me photos, taken in the mid 70's and early 80's, illustrating how the summits of Algonquin and Marcy had been despoiled by hikers. I laughed upon seeing a photo of an orange tent pitched in front of Marcy's memorial plaque. It was dated 1981 and I commented that the early 80's were 'my time' and I certainly knew you weren't permitted to camp there; the photo exaggerated the abuses of the time. Although not as catchy as today's 'Do the Rock Walk', 'Keep off the grass' was a concept promoted 30 years ago. Having said that, it is clear that there had been progress because Algonquin's summit is no longer mangy.

The descent from Algonquin summit to Iroquois's herd-path took me about 5 minutes. Twenty-five minutes later, at 11:45 AM, I was standing atop Iroquois. The herd-path is as evident, and mucky, as a marked trail. Its rocky pitches are marked with yellow paint blazes. It has one significant wet area but I had no trouble traversing it. The path is a highway compared to when I hiked it 30 years ago. Nevertheless, it makes it that much easier to visit Iroquois and experience its charm.
Atop Iroquois.
I had time to spare so I decided to visit Shepherd's Tooth. There are several cairns that point the way down to treeline. The route through the cripplebrush reminds me of the herd paths of yore. Combine trodden fir needles and a few tell-tale patches of exposed earth, shrouded beneath a canopy of abbreviated cripplebrush branches and you have a herd-path circa 1979. It is evident but you must pay attention, especially if it veers off the straight and narrow. To put it into perspective, descending Algonquin took 5 minutes whereas Shepherd's Tooth took 18. It's not a long time in itself, but significant for the distance travelled. I did it in convertible pants and regret that I was too lazy to attach the pant legs. Some of those 'abbreviated branches' are stickers waiting for a fleshy target.
Shepherd's Tooth and Marshall.
The view south from Shepherd's Tooth isn't much different than from atop Iroquois. However, there is a heightened sense of being off the beaten-path. When viewed from Iroquois, the Tooth seems like a short distance below. When viewed from the Tooth, Iroquois looms high above. I admire the folks who've made the trek from Cold Brook Pass. I hope to do that bushwhack in cooler weather. I spent a few minutes taking photos and then descended into the col, where I lost and found the herd-path, and then began the 300 foot ascent to Iroquois. After a 20 minute hike, involving the reconstruction of a few cairns, I arrived on Iroquois's summit at 12:40 PM.

The hike back to the Boundary/Algonquin col was uneventful except for finding a cellphone case, which I dropped it off at the HPIC, and passing a solitary hiker and his dog. The climb back up Algonquin took 15 minutes and I arrived at 1:20 PM. Algonquin was now populated by at least a dozen hikers. Looking at its northern slope, several more acolytes were making the pilgrimage to the summit. The devout were attired in all manner of dress (and undress): short-shorts, shirtless, and one in pantyhose. Most were young but one or two gray-hairs, like myself, dotted the throng.
Colden, mountain and lake.
Despite the 50 minute side-trip to Shepherd's Tooth, I was ahead of schedule so I called my wife to alter the pick-up time. My cellphone indicated there was no signal. I tried moving around the summit, and momentarily picked up a signal, but was unable to place a call. I decided to try later after I had descended a hundred feet or so.

I began my descent at around 1:45 PM. After dropping in elevation, I checked my cellphone and it indicated a strong signal. I called my wife and reported that I was fine, Iroquois was great, and the pick-up time was now 3:00 PM. After hanging up it dawned on me that I may have been overly optimistic about the 75 minute descent time. A ranger, who had been on the summit, was now making his descent and he was moving at a fast clip. I figured if I could keep up with him, I might just exit at 3:00 PM.

I matched the ranger's pace for awhile but lost ground wherever the trail dropped steeply. His iron legs allowed him to jump and land with a thud. I needed to use hiking poles, to soften the landing, and they effectively slowed my descent. I eventually lost sight of him, regained it at the rocky chute, and then he disappeared down the trail.

Along the way I yielded to ascending hikers. At the base of the rocky chute I overheard a heavily-laden backpacker quip to his buddies, "Oh no! Just look down, don't look up!". I passed five nubile young women who appeared to be in training for the Swedish Bikini team. I passed two young men slowly making their way up. I offered them encouragement by reporting the presence of five attractive females farther up the trail. I passed the husband and wife team I had met earlier in the day. Descending, they were now using and appreciating their hiking poles. By the time I passed the Whale's Tail junction I realized I'd be a few minutes late. At 3:10 PM I exited the trail and was greeted by my wife's radiant smile and a big kiss.

I was a sopping mess and opted for a side-trip to Tmax and Topo's for a hot shower. I was greeted by Terri and David, furnished with soap, shampoo, and a towel. It was money well spent as I emerged clean and refreshed. We bade them farewell and then departed for Lake Placid to spend a lazy afternoon capped by a substantial meal, and cold beer, at the Lake Placid Pub and Brewery. A perfect ending to a beautiful summer's day.


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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cliff and Redfield 2011-07-05

Before the day's end, I would become intimately acquainted with the term 'Road Rash'. I fell while descending Cliff and left behind a tiny piece of me. My 'take home' was a bloody souvenir and a valuable lesson.

I didn't begin this hike in the best frame of mind. I left the Upper Works trailhead at 8:45 AM feeling out of sorts. It was an uncommonly late start for me but the day was long and the objective was reasonable.

The trail to Flowed Lands had a few muddy patches but, overall, was in fine shape. I had noticed that Altbark registered to hike Marshall and Cliff and I thought we might cross paths but it didn't happen. I arrived at Flowed Lands at 10:20 AM and paused to take in the wonderful view. I reached the Marshall trail junction, just past the "Pi Bridge", at 10:40 AM and confirmed my assertion that it takes less time to reach it from Upper Works (2 hours) than the Loj (3 hours).

Idyllic morning at Flowed Lands.
The "Pi Bridge" across Herbert Brook.
Along the Opalescent, I met a young man who had been unable to locate the herd path to Cliff. I indicated I was also heading to Cliff and described the route. He dashed ahead and waited at the junction for me to arrive. We continued to the cairn whereupon he thanked me and sped off. Despite dozens of hikes over the past year, I don't think I'll ever move that fast.

The approach to Cliff is along a well-worn and very muddy path. I characterized it as 'one muddy cuss' of a trail and shared that description with a group of four people descending Cliff.

I found plenty of handholds, in the form of overhanging trees, to help me ascend Cliff's steep, rocky pitches. Once past the false summit, and a very muddy section, the trail traverses the ridge via a surprisingly attractive footpath carpeted in fir needles. I arrived at the summit at 12:30 PM, about 45 minutes from the cairn.

Aside from a partial view of Colden, Cliff doesn't offer much in the way of views. Nevertheless it was far more than what I saw from its socked-in summit when I climbed it thirty years ago. It wasn't a scenic rest-stop so I chose to press on and have lunch en route to Redfield.

At the muddy section near the false summit, I met two cheerful hikers ascending Cliff. We exchanged brief pleasantries and then continued on our ways; I'd meet them again on Redfield. I believe I was descending the second steep pitch when I tried an expedient maneuver. I leaned over the edge of an eight foot drop, planted my hiking poles on a foot-wide ledge about four feet below me, and decided I could hop onto it. I believe this photo, taken by Snav3, is the section. My accumulated hiking experience was not involved in this poor decision. If it had been, it would've said to grab an overhanging branch and lower yourself, like you've done countless times before you owned hiking poles.

I landed on the ledge, my feet slid off, and I slid down the coarse rock. I wear cycling gloves to protect my hands and I'm thankful for it. However, the finger-tips were exposed and, being the chink in the armour, that's precisely where the damage was inflicted. The fall was brief and chaotic yet one sensation overshadowed all else, namely the feeling of a cheese-grater running across my right pinky.

I normally finish a hike with a few minor scratches but today would be different. I was relieved that I hadn't fractured or torn anything yet angry that I had made a bone-headed move.

I inspected the painful wound, now bleeding profusely, and saw the epidermal layer had been lost and the exposed dermis was soiled with embedded dirt. The human mouth may be a cesspool of bacteria but it was the most expedient way to clean the wound.

I retrieved bandages from my pack, all the while dripping blood everywhere. Despite my best efforts, I could not remove all of the dirt. I figured the best I could do is staunch the bleeding until I could get to a stream. I spat out another mouthful of blood, bandaged the finger, and then lowered myself with the aid of a branch, like I should've done in the first place.

After bandaging the wound, the pain diminished and it did not impede my hike. I returned to the cairn at 1:25 PM and continued to Redfield. Fifteen minutes later, I arrived at my favourite rest-stop, namely a very pretty section of Uphill Brook with a great view of the Macintyre range. I feel this is a destination in itself and well worth the twenty minute hike from Uphill Brook lean-to. It lies at the head of one waterfall and the base of another and features a large flat rock from where you can rest and view Algonquin and Iroquois.

My favourite rest-stop en route to Redfield.
I removed the makeshift bandage and plunged my hand into the cold, clear waters of Uphill Brook. Clenching my teeth, I used a wet micro-fiber cloth to scrub the dirt out of the ragged wound. I wiped it with an alcohol pad and then wrapped it with an oversized bandage. With that unpleasant chore out of the way, I turned to slathering my feet with diaper-rash ointment and changing my socks. Now I could enjoy my lunch and the excellent view.

I sterilized a half-liter of water with my Steripen, added some Gastrolyte (oral-rehydratrion salts left over from my trip to China) and downed it. I had been sipping water, from my 3-liter hydration bag, throughout the hike but it doesn't beat the satisfaction of guzzling a big glass of cold water. By the end of the day, I'd consume four liters of water and wouldn't have turned down a pint of beer.

Other than a lone hiker descending Redfield (possibly Snav3?), I had the babbling brook all to myself for forty-five minutes. At 2:25 PM I packed up and continued to the summit. En route, I met the group of four hikers once again. The eldest of them was bleeding from scratches on his arms. I grumbled that the trail had taken its toll of blood from both us on this fine day.

I arrived at Redfield's summit less than an hour later at 3:20 PM. I spent ten minutes admiring the commanding view of Allen, where I had been the previous week. I've always imagined hiking the route between Allen and Redfield by following Skylight brook to the nameless bog and then onwards via Redfield's slide. Perhaps some day I'll do it, but not this 'lame finger' day.

I left the summit at 3:30 PM and carefully made my way down. Chastened by my previous fall, I was now treading very carefully, perhaps more than necessary. Once again, I met the two hikers seen on Cliff. They offered me antibiotic ointment but I declined. I indicated I'd get home and flush it with peroxide. One of them suggested downing a little Jack Daniels to ease the sting of the 'old school' peroxide. Given enough Jack Daniels, I'm sure its antiseptic properties could work its magic from the inside out.

One long, overly-cautious hour later, I was back at the trail junction. I followed the unmarked side-trail to inspect Uphill lean-to, took its photo, and then returned to the main trail where I met Aaron. He was returning from Skylight and was looking for the junction to Lake Arnold in order to return to the Loj. I indicated he had overshot the junction by at least a half-mile. I empathized with his situation because, during a hike to Redfield last year, I passed the herd-path junction and the Lake Arnold junction before realizing I had overshot my target! He replied he had turned back more than once and was unable to find it. I suggested he could either try again or follow me to Lake Colden whereupon he could return via Avalanche Pass. He agreed and we spent the next hour discussing hiking, travel, politics, etc.

Along the way, I assisted a father and daughter team looking for Uphill lean-to. Fortuitously, I had a time-stamped photo of it to show them, indicated it was empty and a half-hour away, and described how to find the unmarked side-trail. Aaron and I continued to Lake Colden where, at 5:25 PM, we shook hands and parted ways.

A half-hour later, I was standing on the shore of Flowed Lands and taking one last look at the beautiful vista. Given the excellent weather and the beautiful surroundings, it seemed like a shame to leave. But, camping was not part of the agenda and a hot shower and comfortable bed were a few hours away. I stopped at the Henderson memorial to pay my respects. I was rewarded with a beautiful view of Calamity Pond illuminated by the sun, low in the sky.

The remainder of the trail seemed to be longer than when I hiked it in the morning (isn't that always the case?). I stopped one last time to tend to a blister and change socks. I made good time and arrived at the trailhead at 7:40 PM. Twenty minutes to stow gear, wash up, and change into clean clothes. In lieu of dinner, I snacked on a protein bar and settled back for the three hour drive back home.


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